Milking yaks. Part of the typical Mongolian herding calendar
Ar Arvidjin Delgerekh Cooperative Mongolia
February 10, 2021
Traditional Mongolian barbecue
Traditional Mongolian Barbecue
May 10, 2021
Delicious fresh and local produce at a fruit and vegetable market in Bulgan Aimag, northern Mongolia

Being Vegetarian In Mongolia

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.

Sea-buckthorn is a medicinal plant occurring throughout the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. It is indigenous to Mongolia (it is a hardy plant that can grow in extreme conditions) and produces orange-yellow berries, which are considered as a ‘superfood’  given their nutritional properties. Frequently sold as a juice, also look out for the berries being sold in local markets in the autumn. 
A local market stall in Mongolia as part of guide to being vegetarian in Mongolia

A typical local market stall selling fresh and local produce as well as imported items such as bananas. This was taken in the provincial capital of Bulgan in Bulgan Aimag, northern Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar

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:

  • Luna Blanca – they try to source as much food as possible locally. Located in the building of the Federation for the Preservation of Mahayana Tradition, a Buddhist centre supporting the restoration of Buddhism in Mongolia. You will find it roughly opposite Fine Arts Museum on Juulchiin Gudamj. ​
  • Bosco Verde Italian Vegan Restaurant – Mongolia’s first Italian vegan restaurant in a casual, trattoria-style setting and much loved by the local ex-pat community.

Others that offer vegetarian options include

  • Arig and Anya – a local chain with great ramen soups. There are numerous branches but the easiest one is on Jamyan Street on the south side of the Blue Sky Hotel. Their noodles are freshly made on the premises.
  • Green Zone – located very close to the Fine Art Museum in Builder’s Square (but slightly hidden). French-owned, it focuses on locally sourced food freshly prepared on the premises. It’s small so you may have to wait during busy times. Also, their menu is limited but there are vegetarian options. There’s a great social crowd though. ​
  • Rebelle Restaurant & Bar (previously known as the Soup Bar) – located in the Regency Residences building on Olympic Street. The menu changes seasonally.
  • As well as the small corner shops located throughout the city, larger options for fruit and vegetables as well as pulses include chains such as Nomin, Sansar, Orgil, and Emart. Good Price and Jetro are popular options as well. Mercury Market is also worth a visit for fresh produce and imported items and just the place itself.

Rural Mongolia

  • Do be prepared that in rural areas there will be more limitations, meals will be meat-based with potatoes making a decent showing sometimes followed by carrots, cabbage and onions and that’s about it. Remember that most herding families still use mutton fat for cooking (rather than sunflower oil).
  • Also, look out for the Loving Hut chain. There’s a number in Ulaanbaatar but also in some provincial towns. Operating as a franchise, each restaurant is managed by a local family or person, giving them all a different character but warm and independent character.
  • Most local guanz (roadside canteens) can provide some kind of vegetarian option (often rice with vegetables). Do remember that the vegetable soup does typically include meat. The following phrase may come in help: ‘Bi makh, takhia iddeggui’ – I don’t eat meat or chicken.

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/

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I’m Jess Brooks. I am the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia - a registered Mongolian business and social travel enterprise that focuses on providing travellers with a real 21st Century insight into Mongolia. I have been based in Mongolia since 2006 and together with my beloved Mongolian team, we focus on tourism that makes a positive difference. I'm also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society - awarded for my work in Mongolia and a published guidebook author - having worked together with World Adventure Guides to produce a digital interactive guide to Mongolia. http://www.jessbrooks.co.uk/
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