The Sherpa Diet For Legendary Mountain Strength

©istockphoto/Zzvet

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 Din­nerNoodles
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.


Liq­uid Refresh­ment
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.