If you are a vegan or a vegetarian it is not going to be easy because Mongolians love their meats and most staple Mongolian dishes are heavy in animal products, but it does not mean that surviving as a vegetarian or vegan is impossible, because due to modern-day lifestyles there is a growing number of Mongolians who choose not to eat any meat or animal products.
If you want to know how you can get by Mongolia without eating any dairy and meats, stay tuned!
Food culture in Mongolia
Mongolians from a young age consume a lot of protein-heavy foods. The reason why Central Asians and Mongolians, in general, are bigger than other East Asians is mainly attributed to dietary habits and nutrition.
As a nomadic country, most kids are used to eating dairy products and animal meats pretty regularly. You might actually notice when visiting the countryside that nomads have pretty good teeth without the need for modern medicine and dentistry, the reason being is because Mongolians eat very healthy natural foods.
What do Mongolians usually eat?
Depending on the particular individual’s lifestyle it can vary from person to person, but we can separate nomad people and city people.
City people will usually eat foods that might be very similar to what you eat. City people have more choice of products with fruits and vegetables and goods that are imported from foreigner countries. You can expect fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, etc. However, Mongolians tend to eat much more meat than most other cultures regardless of the lifestyle.
Nomad people on the other hand don’t have much luxury of eating fruits and other exotic products. Usually, their foods are very basic and simple. From noodle soup to just dairy and meats, nomadic foods are definitely much hardy and heavy.
So if you are going to be visiting the countryside and outside the capital city Ulaanbaatar, it’s best to prepare well beforehand, which we will get into just a bit.
Vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Ulaanbaatar
If you are going to be living in the capital city Ulaanbaatar, you won’t have much problem getting by as a vegetarian or a vegan because it’s just like any other city. What’s interesting is that it might actually be cheaper in Ulaanbaatar than most Western countries, because there is a tendency for Western countries to overprice their “organic” and “natural” products.
You will be able to find nuts, seeds, tofu, and other vegetarian products in the most well-known supermarkets such as Nomin or E-Mart. For restaurants, you must try Luna Blanca and Loving Hut.
Luna Blanca is situated in the center of the city and although it is a bit more expensive than Loving Hut, it has a better atmosphere and has a feel of fine dining. For the price, it’s a great value since most dishes are not more than 10,000 tugriks.
There are a few chains of Loving Hut around the city, but the most famous one is situated in the city center as well. Not only are you able to eat vegan foods there, but you can also buy products from their store at very reasonable prices.
How to survive as a Vegetarian out in the countryside?
If you plan on visiting the countryside, small soums, and villages, you better prepare well, because most Mongolians who live outside the capital wouldn’t know what being vegetarian or vegan means.
For independent travelers, the truth is unless you are staying in a host family or a guesthouse where they will cook food for you, it’s nearly impossible. Restaurants and shops will only serve foods with animal products. If you know the Mongolian language, however, you could ask them to not put any animal products when preparing the dishes.
Or if you won’t be gone for too long out in the countryside, you can prepare your own meals and have a container to store your food. If you are traveling for a month or a few weeks this may not be a viable option.
For individuals traveling with a tour agency, you should make it clear with your tour company that you don’t eat meat and that you need a chef who will be able to cook vegan and vegetarian foods. There are in fact some tour operators who do cater to vegans and vegetarians.
Maybe make an exception?
If you are vegan or vegetarian for ethical reasons, then perhaps Mongolia’s case might be a little different. The animals are not harvested on farms and actually live a pretty healthy and happy life.
The nomads tend and care for their animals, and the flock is free to graze the Mongolian countryside.
Nomads out in the countryside don’t necessarily eat meat not because they always want to but because the condition requires them to eat animal products.
So if you want to enjoy Mongolian cuisines and dishes guilt-free, you do have a good reason. It can be a good way to experience Mongolian culture on a deeper level by eating like the locals.