Vegetable Thukpa (Nepalese/Tibetan soup)

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Vegetable Thukpa (Nepalese/Tibetan soup)

Vegetable Thukpa (Nepalese/Tibetan soup)

Vegetable Thukpa (Nepalese/Tibetan soup)

Vegetable Thukpa (Nepalese/Tibetan soup)

Vegetable Thukpa (Nepalese/Tibetan soup)

Almost exactly four years ago, I was travelling alone in northern India, figuring I’d hit up the extremely New Age city of Rishikesh and maybe learn a couple of yoga poses. Instead, I caught pneumonia, had to be transported by strangers to the local hospital, and just generally had a pretty awful/terrifying few days — which I was very, very careful not to tell my family about until the danger had passed and I was on the mend.

Once I had the right meds, I began to mend fairly quickly, but had to take it very, very easy and prolong my stay in town much longer than I’d originally planned. One of the things I did to make myself better was walk across the street to one of the local German Bakeries (Rishikesh’s food scene is bewilderingly studded with many of these so-called ‘German’ bakeries — in fact, mostly local joints run by local people selling local food, that seem to have nothing German about them except that they bake bread!) and enjoy a steaming bowl of thukpa.

Thukpa is a pretty variable soup; depending on who you ask, it comes from either Nepal or Tibet or even China, mostly contains noodles, and can be made either strictly vegetarian or with chicken. I wasn’t feeling so hot last week, and wanted to re-create the thukpa I remembered having in Rishikesh, which is to say a vegetarian, noodle-free (*gasp!*) version, heavy on the cabbage and carrots, in a thick, rich, and intensely savoury tomato broth. The result is a deeply comforting, vitamin-packed bowl that’ll fill you up and have you back on your feet in no time.

I also recently stumbled across this poem about soup which captures so perfectly why they’re the best food this time of year:

After it all, the events of the holidays,
the dinner tables passing like great ships,
everybody made soups for a while.
Cooked and cooked until the broth kept
the story of the onion, the weeping meat.
It was over, the year was spent, the new one
had yet to make its demands on us,
each day lay in the dark like a folded letter.
Then out of it all we made one final thing
out of the bounty that had not always filled us,
out of the ruined cathedral carcass of the turkey,
the limp celery chopped back into plenty,
the fish head, the spine. Out of the rejected,
the passed over, never the object of love.
It was as if all the pageantry had been for this:
the quiet after, the simmered light,
the soothing shapes our mouths made as we tasted.

Vegetable Thukpa (Nepalese/Tibetan soup)

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Serving Size: Serves 4-6.

This Vegetable Thukpa is the perfect winter comfort bowl -- rich, savoury, and packed with vegetables.


  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 3 shallots, peeled
  • 1 thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 Tbs clarified butter (or fat of your choice; coconut oil would work well)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 green chilies, diced
  • 1/2 can (2-3 Tbs) tomato paste
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 Tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 1/2 head small green cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 2 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 red pepper, sliced into matchsticks (roughly -- doesn't have to be crazy thin)
  • 2 large handfuls of washed baby spinach
  • juice of 1/2 a lime, plus more for garnish


  1. In a food processor (or mortar and pestle, if you're feeling ambitious), process the the garlic, shallots, and ginger into a paste.
  2. In a large pot on medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the garlic paste and cook for about 5 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and it doesn't look or smell raw anymore. Add the cumin, garam masala, turmeric, and green chili, and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomato paste and vegetable broth, and bring mixture to a boil for 5-10 minutes, allowing the flavours to come together. (This is a great time to slice/chop the rest of the vegetables.)
  3. Add the soy sauce and honey to the tomato broth, and taste, making any adjustments as necessary.
  4. Add cabbage and reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, and pepper, and cook another 4 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat. Add the juice of 1/2 a lime (plus more, if desired, to taste), and the spinach. Stir in the spinach until it's just wilted, and serve immediately, with extra slices of lime if desired.
  6. Leftover soup will keep for up to 5 days in the fridge.

This soup is also terrific served with a bowl of plain rice.




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6 Responses to “Vegetable Thukpa (Nepalese/Tibetan soup)”

  1. Sam July 17, 2019 at 7:53 AM #

    I am eating this soup while reading the poem. Both of them are wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing them.

  2. Ryan September 18, 2017 at 4:49 PM #

    This recipe was beautifully written. I loved the results as well. (I made them with buckwheat crepes.) Thank you for sharing!

    • toughcookie November 14, 2017 at 10:22 AM #

      What an interesting pairing suggestion. Glad you liked it!

  3. Cordelia February 12, 2017 at 10:51 PM #

    While I know that this wasn’t exactly planned, thank you so much for sharing a delicious sounding recipe which somehow, miraculously, matched the contents of my fridge exactly. looking forward to trying it!

  4. Dadaa January 23, 2016 at 8:49 PM #

    I’m just sitting down to a dinner of home-made soup myself, while I enjoy your post.
    Mine is an ad hoc mix of various fungi, shallots and green mung beans – with a shot of sherry tossed in for good measure. Healthy, if nothing else. See what you can make with those!

    Also, you’re welcome to a jar.

  5. Elsa January 23, 2016 at 2:08 PM #

    This is my kind of soup. I’m off to buy the cabbage now! Elsa.