Wild bamboo shoots, an integral part of trekkers’ diet in Himalayas | Sunday Observer

Wild bamboo shoots, an integral part of trekkers’ diet in Himalayas

23 July, 2022

Nepal is a landlocked country bordering two powerful nations, India and China, and is a spiritually and geographically fascinating location in Asia. It is the birthplace of the Buddha and is draped along the Himalayas which boasts of having the world’s highest mountain, Mount Everest.

Among many tourist attractions in the country, trekking in the Himalayas offers a unique life experience. Apart from nature, trekkers will also get to experience the culture, tradition, lifestyles, and cuisines of Nepal throughout the trek. Since Nepal is the most fascinating trekkers’ destination in Asia, no enthusiastic trekker would leave the country without enjoying a trek to explore the magnificent mountains.

From four-thousanders to eight-thousanders, Nepal offers a vast range of trekking experiences. Nepal’s stretch of the Himalayas includes eight eight-thousanders. They are Mighty Mount Everest (8848m), Kanchenjunga (8,586m), Lhotse (8,516m) Makalu (8,463m) Cho Oyu (8201m) Dhaulagiri (8,167m) Manaslu (8,163m) and Annapurna I (8091m).

Mardi Himal is an off-beaten track lying in the Annapurna sanctuary and is a comparatively short trek of 5-6 days. Mardi Himal is where a trekker can get a breathtaking view of Machhapuchhre (fishtail), Annapurna south, and Himalchuli Mountains.

While trekking up to the Mardi Himal Base Camp located at an altitude of 4500m, through the biodiversity-rich trails, a culinary enthusiast or botanist may explicitly notice the abundance of bamboo trees in the area.

High altitudes

Cultivation of edible crops is not possible at high altitudes ranging from 2500m up to 6000m. The extremely cold climate inhibits the growth of many edible plants in the region. Inhabitants of these high-altitude regions survive mainly on wild foods.

Human labour is required to transport essentials such as rice, grains and spices to high altitudes. Sometimes, mules or donkeys are also used for that purpose. Climbing uphill carrying weight is undoubtedly taxing. Hence, food in the upper mountain region is expensive.

There are tea houses along the route to rest and have a cup of warm lemon-honey-ginger tea or Dhal Bhath, Nepal’s national dish consisting of rice, curried Dhal, some vegetables and a pickle. One can also enjoy Indian, Western as well as Chinese food in tea houses depending on his or her preference. However, the menus of the tea houses get thinner, as you climb high.

During the tourist season that lasts for three months commencing mid September till the end of November, most tea and guest houses are equipped to host a vast number of trekkers with a diversity of food options. Since this is the monsoon season in Nepal (from June to August) many tea houses on the way were seen shut due to difficulty in operating them for a lesser number of trekkers.

Wild bamboo shoot curry

At the end of the first day’s hectic climb for about six hours, we reached a tea house for our dinner and overnight stay. That is also the place where my first encounter with wild bamboo shoot curry took place. Bamboo shoots is known in the Nepali language as Tusa and often potato (Aloo) is added when currying Tusa (bamboo shoots) which is known as Aloo Tusa.

Bamboo shoots are also pickled to preserve them for a longer time. Pickle is an integral part of Nepal’s staple diet. Hence, once pickled, bamboo shoots (Tusa Achar) can be regularly consumed.

In a conversation with the cook of that tea house, I could learn about the importance of bamboo shoots in the diet of the people living in these mountain areas. Inhabitants of these mountain regions survive mostly on wild foods such as bamboo shoots, some mushrooms, and vegetables which are grown in harsh climatic conditions which are also not common to other areas of the country.

Apart from the inhabitants of that area, guest houses and tea houses also often incorporate bamboo shoot curry and pickle along with wild mushrooms that are endemic to the region due to availability and affordability.

Bamboos are widely distributed across Nepal. Thirty species of bamboos have been found in the country. Apart from culinary uses, bamboo has a vast array of benefits for the rural dwellers. This perennial grass produces shoots, which are edible for humans. New shoots appear abundantly during monsoon. And this is the season of bamboos in Nepal.

However, curried Aloo Tusa (bamboo shoots and potato curry) is one of the mostly available curry for trekkers who prefer to alleviate their hunger with popular Dhal Bhath.

Tender bamboo shoots

The cook, Pratap invited me to the small kitchen to show how the Nepalese Tusa ra Aloo ka Tarkari (Bamboo shoots and potato curry) is made. Despite the rain, he ran to the jungle and brought some freshly picked tender bamboo shoots for preparing dinner. I learned to prepare bamboo shoot curry from Pratap.

He showed me already prepared bamboo pickle and gave me his recipe of preparing the pickle. He even promised to prepare bamboo shoot omelet for the breakfast following day. “Since we do not have much vegetables here, we curry sauté, pickle, and fry Tusa. We use Tusa in place of vegetables during Tusa season,” said Pratap.

When inquired if the international trekkers can manage the meal with Tusa curry which is often offered to them with Dhal Bhath, he said bamboo shoot curry is one of the staples of trekkers and they enjoy dishes made with it. “Tusa is highly nutritious. It gives the trekkers energy to toil the whole day,” he said.

“The stem of the bamboo shoots are covered with a purple brownish husk- like skin. This has to be removed prior to cooking. The edible parts inside are off-white and very tender. They break easily. We can cut them lengthwise when cooking,” said Pratap.

Ingredients required

Chopped bamboo shoots - 250g

Medium sized Potatoes - 2

Tomato - 1

Green Chilli - 2

Onion - 1

Cilantro leaves

Ginger paste - 1 teaspoon

Lemon juice

Fenugreek seeds - ½ teaspoon

Sunflower oil - 3 to 5 tablespoons

Turmeric powder - ½ teaspoon

Chilli powder - 1 teaspoon

Mustard seeds - 1 teaspoon

Himalayan rock salt (or table salt)


Heat oil in a pan in medium heat. When the oil is heated, add fenugreek seeds. Let them get blackened and emanate a strong aroma. Then, add mustard seeds and chopped onions. Cook until onions become translucent. Then add chopped potatoes and green Chilli, and ginger paste.

Add salt and cook for a minute or two. Then, add chopped tomato and cook until tomatoes soften. Add turmeric powder, and Chilli powder and mix well.

Add chopped bamboo shoots and sauté for another two to three minutes. Add water depending on the thickness of the curry you prefer. Cook for about 20 minutes until potatoes and bamboo shoots are cooked. Remove the pan from heat and add chopped cilantro and lime juice. Let the flavours get blended. Serve warm with white rice.

Bamboo shoot pickle

To prepare fermented bamboo shoots or Tusa Achar, thinly slice the bamboo shoots. In a bowl, mix ground mustard, Himalayan salt, turmeric powder and mustard oil. Add bamboo shoots in this and mix well. Let this get fermented in the sun. Another way of making Tusa Achar is to use heated oil to sautée the ingredients.