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Exploring Vegetarian Options in Mongolia

This is an update on our 2021 post.

Mongolia, with its nomadic heritage, boasts a traditional cuisine deeply rooted in the essentials of life. Simple ingredients are transformed with a remarkable range of cooking techniques, incorporating vegetables, handmade noodles as well as other various flour products to create delightful homemade dishes. However, although traditionally Mongolian cuisine is not inherently vegetarian-friendly, there are a surprising number of vegetarian options in Mongolia, especially in Ulaanbaatar.

The historical context sheds light on the traditional meat and dairy diet in Mongolia. Nomadic herding lifestyles, closely connected to livestock, naturally led to a culinary focus on these animal products. Moreover, Mongolia’s unique climate, characterized by a mere 90-120 frost-free days per year on average, and its geography, featuring the challenging Gobi Desert and mountain forest steppes, limited the availability of arable land for crops.

As of 2020, the Mongolian National Statistical Information website reported a crop harvest of approximately 121.5 thousand tons of vegetables, excluding potatoes and smaller market garden produce. Other significant harvests included 430 thousand tons of cereals, 244 thousand tons of potatoes, and 182 thousand tons of fodder crops.

 

Fortunately, being a vegetarian in Mongolia has become increasingly manageable due to a growing variety of fruits and vegetables. 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, blackcurrants, wild onions, rhubarb, pine nuts, watermelons (small and fresh), cucumbers or tomatoes, and salad leaves. For those that eat fish, do try the smoked Khovsgol lake fish. While this abundance is evident in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, it extends to more rural areas as well, though you may still stumble upon the occasional rural shop with just one lonely onion on the shelf.

Sea-buckthorn, a resilient medicinal plant thriving across the temperate regions of the northern hemisphere, finds its indigenous home in Mongolia. This hardy plant boasts the remarkable ability to flourish even in the harshest of environmental conditions. What truly sets sea-buckthorn apart are its vibrant orange-yellow berries, widely regarded as a ‘superfood’ due to their exceptional nutritional properties.

In Mongolia, these prized berries are not just a natural wonder but a culinary delight. They are frequently sold as a refreshing juice although 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 vegetarian options 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

Vegetarian Options In Ulaanbaatar

In Ulaanbaatar, the culinary landscape is evolving to cater to diverse tastes, including vegans and vegetarians. Notable establishments include:

  • Bosco Verde Italian Vegan Restaurant: Mongolia’s first Italian vegan restaurant offers a casual, trattoria-style setting and is much loved by the local ex-pat community. As they say on their Facebook page, ‘be vegan, go green, and make a happier and healthier life.’
  • Anista and the Oneness Fountain Heart Vegetarian Cafe are both centrally located and great for anyone looking for plant-based dishes. Both fuse international and Mongolian flavours.
  • The Shangri La Mall has a variety of food and drink options including Foody, a chain with some great menu options from vegetarian chicken shashlik to vegan burgers and some great Mongolian options.

Although the following are not specifically dedicated vegetarian options, they are worth checking out:

  • Arig and Anya: A local chain renowned for its delectable ramen soups, with numerous branches across the city. The noodles are freshly made on-site. The vegetarian options are limited but their ramen is delicious so worth checking out.
  • Green Zone: Tucked away near the Fine Art Museum in Builder’s Square, this informal eatery prioritizes locally sourced, freshly prepared food. Though its menu is somewhat limited, it does offer vegetarian options and often boasts a vibrant social scene.
  • In addition, Ulaanbaatar features corner shops, supermarkets, and markets that stock a range of fruits, vegetables, and pulses. Chains like Nomin, Sansar, Orgil, Emart, Good Price, Jetro, and Mercury Market offer a variety of options, both locally sourced and imported.

Vegetarian Options Outside Of Ulaanbaatar

  • Rural Mongolia presents a different culinary landscape. Visitors should be prepared for meat-centric meals, often accompanied by potatoes, carrots, cabbage, and onions. Traditional cooking in some rural areas still often relies on mutton fat instead of sunflower oil.
  • For those seeking vegetarian options, the Loving Hut chain has a presence in Ulaanbaatar and certain provincial towns. Operated as franchises, each restaurant has its unique character, adding warmth and independence to the dining experience.
  • The Fairfield Guesthouse in Tsetserleg, Arkhangai Province (and now also in Khovd), provides freshly prepared home-cooked food including a number of vegetarian options.
  • Even local guanz, the roadside canteens, can accommodate vegetarians with rice and vegetable dishes, though vegetable soup typically includes meat. You can use the phrase “Bi makh, takhia iddeggui” to communicate that you don’t eat meat or chicken.

What Does EL Do?

If you’re travelling with us, excluding Ulaanbaatar, a majority of meals are provided by the EL team. In the capital city, EL offers a Welcome Pack, complete with a map and guide to locally-owned restaurants, cafes, and bars, including some excellent vegetarian and vegan options.

Outside of UB, EL’s tour vehicles are equipped with a simple camping kitchen, allowing for flexibility in meal preparation and variety. However, remote locations may impose occasional limitations, so guests with strict dietary requirements should be prepared to adapt. (Also, if you’re the type of person who must have five pieces of fruit a day then you may struggle.) Our teams are encouraged to buy local seasonal produce to support the communities we pass through and to consider food miles in their choices so do not expect kale smoothies, Thai curries, paella, or Chinese stir fry. Also, you may see a pineapple in one of the markets but, no! We won’t necessarily buy it!) We just provide honest, heartening grub. 

Although vegetarian options have become more prevalent in Mongolia, particularly in urban areas, we encourage travellers with specific dietary needs to clearly communicate their requirements at the start of their enquiry. This allows us to provide a realistic expectation of the food options available.

Do bear in mind though that vegetarian options 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. Flexibility is key when travelling with personal dietary requirements, ensuring an enjoyable and memorable experience in this unique and captivating land.

If you’re inspired by our informal blog posts, why not consider exploring 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 Food of the Nomads tailor-made experience.
Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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