The pillar of a Sherpa household is hospitality. In remote mountain communities, guests are as revered as family, and visitors are never left unfed. These hardworking Tibetan descendants are renown for their energy, strength, and good humor. Much of their character is defined by their meals; a starch-heavy diet of potatoes, locally grown vegetables, noodles, and meat. Furthermore, their cooking is laden with spices such as cumin and turmeric; a testament to their heritage as traders from Tibet. Thick, spicy stews help to defend from the cold of a harsh Himalayan winter between the world’s highest peaks, while a lighter fare of broth, potato dumplings, and thin pancakes with chili-infused yak butter is popular in the summer. Learning to eat like a Sherpa unlocks the secrets behind their boundless strength and energy.
The Sherpa Breakfast
Sherpa communities are early risers and take breakfast in the early dawn hours. The morning meal is characterized by a roasted barley porridge called tsampa, a wheat paste known as syan, and servings of Tibetan Tea. Tsampa is an irremovable staple of Himalayan cuisine. Roasted barley flour is mixed with tea, beer, or water and formed into thick dough-like balls. The barley flour is so revered that it’s thrown during weddings and ingested raw for energy. For many farmers throughout the Solokhumbu, syan, a wheat-based dough dipped into a ginger and turmeric-spiced potato soup provides a hefty caloric intake throughout the day. The indisputable standard of a Sherpa breakfast is Tibetan Tea, a pot of black tea flavored with yak butter and salt. The butter tea is prepared by steeping the leaves for several hours, mixing with salt, and pouring into a bamboo butter churn. The result is a thick stew-like beverage that is claimed to have medicinal properties.
The Sherpa Lunch
For many farmers, lunch is a quick midday break taken in the fields, meant to maintain energy and suppress hunger until dinner. Potatoes are particularly popular for their starch and high calorie qualities. For some, the vegetables are mashed into a paste, then baked into a thin pancake. Others boil the potatoes whole, then dip into a thick mixture of garlic and chilies. Sherpas use bread as a scoop for their meals. The dough is laid into a flat tortilla-like thickness and then fried. It’s popularly eaten with potato soup and chili paste.
The Sherpa Dinner
Dinner in the Himalayas is hearty and filling, with high fat and calories for strength and warmth during the bitterly cold winters. Passed down from Tibet, thukpa is a thick noodle soup of wide noodles, meat, broth, and vegetables. Because of the variance in mountain climates and crops, Sherpas will usually utilize the produce they have available, then spice with cumin and turmeric. Dinner is typically served with momos; steamed dumplings in a doughy purse with meat or vegetables.
Alcohol is very popular among Sherpa men, especially for its warmth-giving properties. Chang, a milky beer made of fermented millet, is traditionally served by adding hot water to a tin pot of barley. More popular is raksi, a rice wine that’s popular for celebrations such as weddings or as a means to stay warm.
Despite living in remote regions, the Sherpas have adopted a diet that maintains their legendary strength in the mountains. Relying on simple, available ingredients, they adopt natural means to find energy, and for any adventurer, is much to learn from these immensely strong mountain people about eating well in the high hills.