Many nonvegans are concerned about going vegan because they think that it is too difficult, especially when traveling.
I am happy to tell you that after many treks in Nepal over about five years, that trekking in Nepal is a good destination for vegans. I would not say it is a great destination, as the food situation is not fantastic for omnivores either. It certainly is not like Thailand, Bali, or the West Coast of the US but it is about as good for vegans as it is for nonvegans and if you are happy with very similar dishes each meal, then you will do just fine.
Our tea house trekking experience
We have been trekking in Nepal several times as vegans and we feel like we have a pretty good understanding of how trekking works up there. It is worth saying that our last trip was in 2015 so we are sure things might have improved since we originally wrote this article. Will they have Beyond Burgers at the teahouses? Probably not, but we expect that perhaps the electricity and phone reception have improved which might have knock-on effects in terms of how long food can be kept fresh and some supply chain improvements.
What is teahouse trekking?
When we go trekking in Nepal, we usually go tea house trekking (rather than camping). This means you stay at small, usually very basic guesthouses (known as teahouses) every night and as you trek throughout the day there will be other guesthouses where you can have lunch, drinks, and snacks throughout your day’s walking. These teahouses will have a few rooms, usually very cheap and there is a common area with a dining room with a fire which will usually be the only form of heat you’ll have access to. You’ll need to bring sleeping bags and towels and the higher in elevation you go, the colder it will be, the more expensive the food is and the more basic the accommodation.
How we teahouse trek
While most tourists use porters and guides to help them carry their belongings. We prefer not to. We carry our bags as the trekking routes we follow are very easy to navigate and we prefer being alone. However, this does not mean we bring all our food or were self-sufficient. Most of the food we eat is purchased at the teahouses with some supplements which we will detail below.
When to go and how that impacts the food available
We also like to go to Nepal in wintertime. We love the clear weather and views that traveling at this time gives us but it is very cold. We observed very few vegetables being grown or available locally even at the lowland start of the trek. The situation might be different at other parts of the year but at the higher reaches of the trek, they told us that all vegetables are imported by plane from Kathmandu or that food had to be brought to the villages on the back of the yaks or the porters at considerable expense. This explains the high prices of meals and snacks compared with the same dishes in the valley or Kathmandu. It is also worth mentioning that on my previous visit to Nepal, I spoke with someone who worked for the World Food Program in Nepal. She told me that the was a lot of malnourishment in the mountainous areas of Nepal to the extent many people needed vitamin supplementation. At the time, this surprised me, but on my second visit, I could certainly see how this is the case even in the relatively wealthy valley of the Khumbu. There are few vegetables, hardly any fruit, and to be honest, not a lot of protein either especially for those who do not eat eggs. While this is a slight concern for travelers, spare a thought for people who live here year-round.
Is vegan understood while trekking in Nepal?
Hosts of teahouses are incredibly hospitable and will do whatever they can to accommodate you. The word vegan might not be widely understood and things like non-dairy milk will not be available. However, most of the food served at teahouses is vegetarian with eggs and cow’s milk powder often used. Negotiating with staff at the guesthouses is very easy indeed. They are usually very good English speakers and understand the concept of vegetarianism so you will need to ask things like Does the rosti contain eggs and milk? Can you make it without?
So what kind of food is available while trekking in the teahouses?
Most of the food available is refined carbohydrates and processed foods. Some examples of items you will find on the menus of teahouses are:
This is a local stable in the mountains and I like this. It will compose of a big plate of white rice, a bowl of thin dal broth, vegetable curry, and maybe a poppadom. Usually, the higher you get up the mountain, the vegetables will be more like just potatoes. Great for getting those calories in after a long day of trekking. It’s possible the best deal as it is all you can eat, however, the vegetables and lentils run out first.
Fried rice and fried noodles
This is an okay option and is exactly as it sounds, usually, the vegetable is cabbage and is flavored with all the usual suspects, soy sauce, and perhaps some MSG.
These small steamed dumplings are also made with refined flour and some vegetables inside.
One of my favorites. There might be a few different versions. The best is one served with tomato sauce which seemed to just be a canned tomato sauce or soup. A mountain of this after a day of trekking tastes great.
A fantastic snack to have when you arrive at the trek and waiting for dinner.
These are available at many teahouses although they are usually not very flavorful and fun to eat. They are also expensive.
You’ll find these everywhere in lots of different forms. Rostis, french fries, and hash browns. All those not vegan are easily made vegan (Can I have the rosti minus the egg and the cheese?).
Lots of these are vegan although not very nutritious for example garlic soup is a popular one.
Oatmeal without milk.
This is a pretty good choice and who says you can’t have breakfast for dinner? Usually, you will need to add sugar and sometimes there will be some apples too.
Also at the teahouses, there are lots of vegan processed foods that can give you energy. Oreo cookies, Pringles, candies, and jars of peanut butter.
Nutrition while trekking
As you see, there are plenty of foods available that are high in calories which is what you need when you are expending so many calories as you do a trek in cold conditions. They are not necessarily the most healthy.
If you’re like me and you usually eat a nutritious diet, you might not like eating a diet like this for a week or so, but chances are it is not going to have much of an impact on your health. However, some people can go trekking for weeks at a time. On the last trek that I completed, I contracted a cold towards the end of the trek, and I have a sneaky feeling it was because my diet was not as healthy as it normally is.
Vegan foods to bring trekking that pack a nutritional, taste, or energy punch
Cookies and energy bars
Cookies and energy bars (like Clif Bars) are of course fantastic and provide lots of energy and for the weight. Some bars have a higher protein content and contain some whole ingredients.
Packing a few bars of chocolate is even tastier than it normally is when trekking. We may have dipped chocolate in peanut butter.
Peanut Butter (or any nut or seed butter)
A plastic jar of peanut butter is delicious. Ordering chapattis at the teahouse and spreading them with peanut butter, rolling them up, and putting them in a zip lock is a good snack to have while trekking.
Dried seaweed snacks
Dried seaweed snacks are also great to have in your bag. Although not calorie dense, they are a fantastic (and light) source of vitamins and minerals and provide a different texture and taste to your day.
Freeze-Dried or Dehydrated (airdried) fruits and vegetables
You can also bring your own vegetables on the trek too. Freeze-dried food is made when frozen raw materials are placed in a refrigerated vacuum system and, without thawing, are dehydrated. These are extremely nutritious and very light to carry. I will say that they probably will not retain their size (they are very brittle) but they are delicious and a great want to get nutrients in. You can also bring airdried foods whether you buy them already dried or dry them yourself in a dehydrator and have them dried as snacks, or add them to boiling water, allow them to sit for a few minutes, and add them to your dal baht, or garlic soup.
These days there are a lot of vegan dehydrated vegan meals that you can purchase already made or you can cook meals and dehydrate them yourself. There are lots of websites online designed to help people prepare food for long hiking and camping trips, but using these meals as a supplement or as a replacement for some of your meals, especially at higher elevations would also be a good use for them.
Nomad Nutrition does a huge range of plant-based and gluten-free meals from Spanish Paella, Caribbean curry, and Irish Shepherd’s pie.
These days there are so many different varieties of trail mix. These are super things to carry with you as these whole foods have lots of nutrition even if the nuts are very high in fat.
Bring your regular multivitamin and B12 with you, but you might also like to bring a greens power with you to get those antioxidants that you just aren’t getting from vegetables. Just add a small amount to a glass of water if it is not very tasty.
I always like to bring a small bag of seasoning, usually nutritional yeast, and perhaps some gomashio. This can add some more flavor and also some extra nutrition to your food
If you do end up bringing a lot of your food, please do purchase foods (or give the equivalent in money of food you would have bought) at the tea houses you stay at. Tea houses get most of their money from people buying meals (not from the bed you sleep in). Also, if you bring a lot of [packaged foods in, then please take the packaging out with you. Waste management in these areas is not well-developed so if you leave it behind it will be burned or dumped.