Travelling in Mongolia when you are vegetarian

Travelling in Mongolia when you are vegetarian

Jul 07 2015

Vegetarians, before undertaking a trip in the vast steppes of Mongolia, are often and understandably, worried about what they will find in their plates during their tour. So here comes our little survival guide, in order to enjoy your journey at best and feel carefree by being vegetarian in Mongolia.

It is renown that Mongols are great meat lovers. In fact, be assured to find sheep and goat meats in all traditional cooked dishes. A meal without meat is unconceivable for our Mongolian friends, who think that vegetables are only good for animals, and as for people have to eat meat.

So how to do, when the mere idea of eating meat, turns our stomach? Do not worry, even if you can’t unfortunately share the same dish as the Mongols, it is still possible to have a vegetarian diet for all the length of your trip in Mongolia.

Being vegetarian in Ulaanbaatar

Let’s start with the easiest part: eating vegetarian food in the capital. Still hard to believe, 10 years ago numerous vegetarian restaurants opened their doors and became very popular among the Mongolian youth looking for a new way of life. We currently count about 30 locations serving exclusively vegetarian dishes, and also the ones from Loving hut chain, which runs over 25 restaurants in the country. Another famous logo is Luna Blanca, which has adjusted few traditional dishes to the vegan trend, and where you can taste delicious Khuushuur made from Soja steak. Notice also the more selected Vegan Lounge restaurant. In addition to these exclusive vegetarian restaurants, you can also enjoy dishes without meat, in most of the restaurants of the capital.

Being vegetarians in the steppes

Of course, once you will have left the capital, the situation will become a tiny more complicated.

The traditional nomadic culture is based on breeding animals, and this is this pastoral way of life, which has contributed to the survival of Mongolians through the centuries. In fact, the weather conditions of the country make almost impossible the development of any agriculture. Meat and diary products are then traditionally considered as the base of Mongolian diet. The elderlies may think that a meal must be calorific and protein in order to resist at best the cold, dry, and windy climate that we find in the steppes, and so that the meat and the products from animals are the most adapted to their conditions of life.

Meat being adjusted and available in the steppes, it is all a diet that has been developed around it.

During your tours, you will stay in 3 sorts of locations, and according to that, you will have different possibilities.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="275"]Travelling in Mongolia when you are vegetarian Vegetarian Khuushuurs[/caption] The yurts camps surely offer the simplest option for the vegetarians. These steppes hotels all have their own restaurant in which you can order a dish without meat. The travel agency, which you will be travelling with, will inform the camp about your vegetarian diet, and so that specific meals will be prepared in accordance. It is interesting to note that near Tseserleg, a yurt camp 100 % vegetarian has opened. This is the Maidar San Camp. Moreover, all our groups having lunch in the region of Tsetserleg will discover this camp from this summer, because this is where we will have lunch for a very healthy meal!  

Eat amongst the nomads as a vegetarian

During your journey in Mongolia, you will probably have to stay for one or several days in a nomadic breeder family, and very often they will be the ones who will prepare your meal. If you are traveling with a guide, they will explain to the family that you do eat neither meat, nor diary products. The family will be surprised at first, but will do with it, and cook your meal without meat. On the menu: fried rice with vegetables, fried raviolis (Khuushuur) filled with mashed potatoes. Do not expect much variety, and you will certainly have to prepare yourself your meal. If you are traveling with an agency, they will prepare a meal adjusted to your diet, which will be then prepared by your guide. If you are traveling independently, you will have to bring your own food. Finally, it may occur that you will camp. If you are alone, you will surely need to make the necessary provisions according to your taste. During the tours the agency will take care of your meals. They will also have made the necessary provisions in accordance with your queries. Very often a cook will come along with you and will know how to adapt your diet at best.

Horseback Mongolia agency has got their own kitchens in Ulaanbaatar, in where 3 chefs work on the preparation of the meals. If we cook from here for all of our tours, varied meals based on meat and vegetables that enables us to bring variety in the diet of our customers during the tours. We also prepare 100% vegan dishes, as well as gluten-free for instance. All the dishes are either kept vacuum packed and frozen. However, the dishes need to be consumed within the first week of the trip; for longer trips we will get fresh supplies when possible, where you will have to adapt yourself to less varied meals, based on starchy food (pasta, rice) and canned (green beans, peas).

In conclusion, even if Mongolia is not a country of vegetarians, henceforth it remains a destination where the vegetarians can travel to without much worries. However, the longer your circuit will be and take place in remote areas, the more you will have to make sacrifices on the variety and delicacy of your meals. The most difficult circuits to organize for vegetarians are long hikes, and independently in remote areas without supply possibilities. Choosing a good agency used to arrange vegetarian meals, will make your journey more pleasant. In this way, Horseback Mongolia is the only agency in the country to have their own kitchens and prepare elaborated vegetarian meals and stored under vacuum packed.

Have a nice trip!

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Moneva
19 March 2019
It is not just the visible meat that concerns me, it is also the fat that is used with vegetable dishes. People with no detailed knowledge about real vegetarians never think of the fat used to cook. Also, they often will cook the veggies in pots that are usually used to cooking meat. I have been a vegetarian from birth, and just the thought of contact with corpse puts me in a bad state! I have experienced these situations in more remote parts of China, for instance... especially the cooking with animal fats!
Enguerran ZANDONAIverified
20 March 2019
Thank you Moneva for your message! We do understand that cooking with animal fat would be as well a concern. Be ensured, when we do provide trips, we consult the needs of our participants especially about food. Some people might be vegetarians, vegans, having allergies to gluten etc... Mongolia is still a difficult destination for some people in this regards, but we can make it with a little bit of communication and understanding. This is definitely something to consider (not cooking with animal fat)and we thank you for your comment! Have a great day. Enguerran
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Joe Milik
09 January 2016
Great info, thanks so much!
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Joe Milik
03 January 2016
Fantastic article. Mongolia has always been high on my list of places to visit, but the heavy meat filled diets of the locals has always put me off. Most of the articles you read about staying vegetarian/vegan while traveling in Mongolia are often written just about Ulaanbaatar and never really focus on the rest of the country. Eating vegan in the capitol seems very easy, sure, but once you head out of the city, that's the scary part! It's nice to know that there always can be a vegetarian option even if it is limited. That khuushuur looks great. Are there any other traditional Mongolian foods that can be easily modified to be vegan? And what are some Mongolian phrases to help a vegetarian/vegan traveling in the country?
admin
08 January 2016
Thanks Joe for your comment ! Yes Mongolia can be harsh for vegetarians, but there's options now, and you wouldn't be the first vegetarian to visit the country. To say I'm vegetarian, it's : Bi Tsagaan Khooltan. Vegetarian meals are called Tsagaan khool, literally white food. Except the Khuushuur, the Tsuivan can easily be turned into a vegetarian dish : it's some homemade noodles fried together with vegetables, potatoes and meat... easy to take off the meat from the dish, and it's still (safter 10 years living in Mongolia I'm luckily for me a meat lover too) delicious !
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