Mongolia’s traditional cuisine is simple yet tasty. Simple base materials are processed with a surprising variety of methods and combined with vegetables and hand-made noodles, and other flour products for fresh homemade delights. It is not traditionally vegetarian friendly though.
It makes sense that as Mongolia was traditionally a country of nomads following a herding lifestyle living with their livestock, so their diet was based around both meat and dairy. In addition, although Mongolia is the size of western Europe its climate (the country on average experiences between only 90-120 frost-free days per year) and geography (the presence of the Gobi Desert and the mountain forest-steppe in particular) naturally limit the size of agricultural land available. According to the Mongolian National Statistical Information website, Mongolia’s 2020 crop harvest yielded approximately 121.5 thousand tons of vegetables – not including potatoes and not including the harvest produced by the smaller market gardeners that grow items such as cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce. If it is of interest, Mongolia’s 2020 crop harvest also yielded 430 thousand tons of cereals, 244 thousand tons of potatoes, and 182 thousand tons of fodder crops.
However, being a vegetarian in Mongolia no longer proves so much of a challenge with a wide variety of fruit and vegetables available – obviously in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia’s capital city) but also in the more rural areas … although you will still come across the odd rural shop that has just the one onion on the shelf.
You will still see that a lot of fresh produce displayed is imported from China and Russia. But, you will now also see local market stalls and western-style supermarkets, with trolleys and shelves proudly saying ‘Made in Mongolia.’ Local seasonal produce is available such as blueberries, strawberries, and blackcurrants, wild onions, rhubarb, pine nuts, watermelons (small and fresh), cucumbers or tomatoes, and salad leaves. For those that eat fish, do try the smoke Khovsgol lake fish.
Within the capital city, there are a few vegetarian cafes or restaurants. Food businesses come and go but the following are popular and long-standing:
Others that offer vegetarian options include
What Does EL Do?
Excluding Ulaanbaatar, a majority of meals on our tours are provided by the EL team. For when our guests are in Ulaanbaatar, we provide our Welcome Pack which includes a map and guide to locally-owned restaurants, cafes, and bars in UB including a few great vegetarian and vegan options.
For when on tour, each of our Furgon vans contains a simple camping kitchen and this allows us to offer considerable freedom and flexibility. Not just in how we prepare and provide meals but also the types of meals we prepare and provide.
Due to the remote locations we visit and the lack of facilities, there will naturally, occasionally, be limitations in place. (If you’re the type of person that must have five pieces of fruit a day then you may struggle.) But you can count on meals that will be tasty and filling. The team is encouraged to purchase local seasonal produce to help support each community we pass en route. Also, we take food miles into consideration so do not expect kale smoothies or Thai curries or paella or Chinese stir fry. We just provide honest, heartening grub. You may see a pineapple in one of the markets but, no! We won’t necessarily buy it!
Our guests with dietary requirements are personally responsible for providing clear information regarding dietary needs so we can help them to understand well in advance what they might realistically expect. There is ample room on the booking form to convey these details.
Do bear in mind that being a vegetarian in Mongolia – one of the most remote countries in the world – will mean you will at times face restrictions or limitations to what is available. Anyone traveling with personal dietary requirements must be prepared to be flexible.
If you’re inspired by our informal blog posts, why not consider exploring our Mongolia with us? Here’s a link to our range and style of tour experiences – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/mongolia-tours/ including our 13-day Food of the Nomads tailor made experience.