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Last updated on May 29th, 2023 at 05:59 pm

When reading just about every blog and article about food in Central Asia, everyone said, and I quote, “If you don’t eat meat, you’re fucked.” “Plov is the bread and butter of the area. If you don’t like it, you’ll learn to love it, then get sick of it.” After traveling in Central Asia, I can say that actual vegetarians had no part in writing any of these food guides. After reading these guides, I was fully prepared to be served horse meat in plov for every meal. I mean, these blogs made it sound like by the end of the trip I would have consumed an entire horse to myself.

We landed in Tashkent and immediately found a vegan/vegetarian cafe. It’s the capital, I told myself; every capital probably has at least one vegan cafe. We continued into the heart of the Silk Road, and along the way, I ate my weight in eggplant, veggies, bread, jams, dips, and a lot of dill. I was thrilled to find so many colorful and tasty veggie options. 

vegetarian vegan food guide central asia

Things started off great, but as I moved into Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, I came down with a nasty stomach bug related to eating veggies washed with dirty water, and one yurt only had dishes cooked in animal fat or meat on the menu. Sometimes I felt like I was willingly choosing the option that might result in an upset stomach.

As a vegetarian, I indeed wasn’t fucked by any means, and I ate pretty well. I will confidently say that you will struggle if you don’t like dill or plan on being strictly vegan 100% of the time, but it can be done. If you follow the survival tips and plan, you should be able to avoid eating meat altogether. It is essential to prepare yourself if you ask for something with no meat; occasionally, someone will try to serve you something cooked in fat, where they pick the meat out in front of you. Prepare yourself for how you will respond in situations such as this. I hope this guide to navigating these countries as a vegetarian can help you understand and prepare for the travel ahead of you. Central Asia was hands down one of my favorite regions to visit, but it certainly had challenges for me as a vegetarian.

Vegetarian Survival Tips for Central Asia

I only traveled to three countries in Central Asia, and each place had a different relationship with vegetarian food, but there were a lot of similarities as well. During my time, I was able to pull together a few general tips for surviving in Central Asia as a vegetarian to help you avoid meat as much as possible. 

1. Pack Medication

As I did, you must prepare to get a little sick if you eat strictly vegetarian. Before leaving, go to your local pharmacy or consult your doctor for probiotics and diarrhea medicine. Some medicines are not for long-term usage, so ensure you know how to take your medicine. I found that taking regular probiotics was my best solution during my travels.

Pro Tip: Uzbekistan has strict laws about bringing drugs into the country, so ensure you keep things in their original packaging if you bring them from overseas. If you have a prescription, it must be in the same name as your passport. If you plan to visit a local pharmacy, look up local phrases to help you.

I didn’t properly prepare myself. I finally took time to visit a pharmacy when I hit my breaking point, which was getting explosive food poisoning while on an overnight sleeper train across Kazakhstan. Yes, it was probably the worst travel experience of my entire life, and no, I am not ready to fully talk about it, haha. Anyway, I finally visited a pharmacy in Almaty. Don’t wait until you are sick like I did. Stop at a pharmacy early in your trip or bring medication.

The medication is not an end-all solution, so buckle up and prepare for upset stomachs and diarrhea. Though, I sincerely hope you manage to avoid getting sick.

2. Cities & Major Hotels Are Your Best Bet

My most difficult times were in small remote towns and dodgy roadside restaurants. In cities, I had no problem. Capital cities have modern vegan or vegetarian options with more diverse menus. The water quality in larger cities also seems to be a bit better. So, if you are a vegan, I suggest you do all your stocking up in larger cities before heading into more rural areas. Even if you are vegetarian, it doesn’t hurt to stock up on snacks for the road to have on hand in an emergency. 

vegetarian guide to Uzbekistan

Mirzo Hotel prepared us a vegetarian midnight snack!

Larger hotels that cater to Westerners will have more veggie options. We stayed at one of the more grand hotels, Mirzo Hotel, in Tashkent, and they even made us a vegetarian midnight snack. In contrast, our host at a rural homestay only gave us one main vegetarian item that we ate daily – fried dough with jam. It was delicious but bland after eating it consistently. It helps to get comfortable eating the same things over and over.

3. Prepare Yourself for Being Served Meat

Communication can be challenging as you travel through Central Asia. We had a Russian speaker with us for part of the trip, and things went pretty well when I had her help me translate. Unfortunately, when we parted ways, I struggled. Ganesh and I went to grab lunch at a yurt, and we asked for just plain rice with nothing added since rice is a big staple in the region. Unfortunately, we watched as they took the plov with horse meat, cooked it in fat, and picked out the meat. Prepare for what you will do in this situation. Will you pay and not eat the food? Will you try to communicate differently? Will you make an exception?  You want to know how to respond in situations like this so you are not caught off guard and can handle it without stress.

4. Find Supermarkets

Some hotels we stayed at had fridges or kitchens. We would then stop by a market to buy ingredients to make cheese wraps, trail mix, muesli, and fruit. Always make sure to rinse your fruit with boiled water from a kettle. While the supermarkets aren’t excellent, they have enough to get you through those tight areas if you are averse to eating meat on the road. So, star some supermarkets on Google Maps before you head out on your trip, pack your reusable bags and do a little shopping to help you fit your dietary needs.

5. Speaking of Dietary Needs…

Prepare to be malnourished. Some vegans would rather eat bread for ten days straight than get plov cooked in fat, which is fine. However, in certain areas, you might deal with elevation fatigue. The Kyrgyzstan mountains are 4,000 m, and we struggled during our hike with fatigue and low energy. You might also encounter extreme heat. As we ventured through the southern Kazakhstan canyons, temperatures hit 45 Celsius. If all you’ve eaten is bread for ten days, you might be putting yourself at risk. So, PLEASE take care of yourself and ensure you get the right calories and nutrition, whatever that means to you, to avoid fainting while hiking.

Another tip is to have some supplements and vitamins on hand. You will not eat a balanced diet most days, so take a multivitamin to keep your energy and values balanced.

6. Choose Cooked Options

The main issue with vegetarian dishes in Central Asia is the water used to rinse them. When you can choose between a raw cucumber salad or a meal with grilled veggies, always choose the cooked food. Eating cooked vegetarian dishes will *usually* keep you in much better health than uncooked options. Look for things like grilled veggies, steamed dumplings, and veggie samsas. The water in Central Asia was somewhat better than in India or parts of S. America, where I got sick just looking at a tomato, but it is an overall concern. 

If you bring produce home from a street market or supermarket, boil water in a kettle and rinse the food adequately before consuming.

vegetarian food in Uzbekistan

Grilled veggies are your best friend!

7. Vegetarians: Get Used to Salty, Acidic Milk

People in Central Asia drink fermented sour milk or horse milk because these dairy drinks are fantastic natural probiotics. If you are vegetarian, try having a daily glass of the local milk product to help calm stomach issues. Trust me; you get used to it after a while.

horse milk vegetarian guide to central asia

Horse milk!

8. Don’t Assume Everyone Knows Vegan/Vegetarian

It is common to find something labeled vegan, yet it still comes with cheese. The concept of veganism is a work in progress in Central Asia. Similarly, something might be listed as vegetarian but may have been cooked in fat but with no meat. Don’t be rude and blame your server or cook for not understanding your dietary needs. Sometimes you need to laugh it off. Many places are starting to come around the concept, and most restaurants want to make you happy. So if they speak English, work with them to get your meal right, even if it takes a few tries. People in Uzbekistan, in particular, were excellent hosts and will go above and beyond to try and find a solution that makes you happy.

9. Bread – Eat All the Bread

The bread in Central Asia, particularly Uzbekistan, is top-notch. It’s flame cooked on the outside with beautiful patterns with a crispy crust layer, and it’s soft and chewy on the inside. You’ll find vendors selling bags of this bread just about everywhere. So, stock up and grab some jam for a tasty vegetarian meal on the go!

uzbekistan central asian bread

10. Don’t Feel Guilty

While vegetarians and vegans need to be ready for anything while traveling in Central Asia, it is your choice. You can go to supermarkets to buy your food, decline homestay food, and bring your pre-boiled water to rinse off veggies, or you may choose to eat meat to make sure you are getting the proper nutrients. Whatever you decide, I want to prepare you for situations where you must make these decisions. Whatever you decide, you won’t be judged – at least by me. Sometimes embracing local culture is more ethical and sustainable than the alternative, and ALWAYS put your health & comfort first.

11. Happy Cow is Your Friend

Happy Cow is Central Asia’s best resource for vegetarian and vegan options. The Happy Cow community is quite active and has lots of great recommendations. Ensure you download the app and have it ready to use as you explore. It is less helpful in rural areas but great in more touristy areas and metro centers. But, it was our go-to app for finding vegetarian and vegan-friendly restaurants.

12. Bring a Waterbottle That Cleans the Water

If you have a water bottle like the LARQ or Grayl that can help you filter or clean your water, pack it! I generally stick to low and zero-waste options at home and when I travel, so buying plastic water bottles is mentally difficult. These water bottles can help reduce the need for plastic, yet we relied on local knowledge to tell us when to buy a 5-gallon water bottle and leave it in our hotel room to refill our daily reusable bottles at home.

Vegetarian Guide to Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan was the most accessible place for vegetarians, and it set my expectations a little too high. Most of the food I had in Uzbekistan was tasty, menus had at least an entire page dedicated to vegetarian options, and many restaurants understood the concept of vegetarianism. While you can’t go wrong here, I’ll cover some of Uzbekistan’s most common dishes and foods and highlight some of my favorite restaurants in each city to give you a launching point.

Vegetarian Dishes & Foods in Uzbekistan

This image depicts almost every vegetable available in Uzbekistan – eggplant, bell peppers, potatoes, carrots, zucchini, onion, cabbage, and pumpkin/squash. Tomato, dill, bread, egg noodle, egg, and cheese, which are not pictured, were also quite common.

vegetarian guide to uzbekistan

The main veggies in Uzbekistan

Some restaurants took vegetarian cooking to another level with pumpkin-filled steamed dumplings, eggplant satay fried in egg, samsas – with cheese or even veggies for a vegan alternative, and lavash – a flatbread – stuffed with cheese, tomato, and herbs – easy to ask for no cheese. We were lucky enough even to find vegetarian laghman in one place. Laghman is a traditional Central Asian noodle dish typically made with horse meat, so this was a great find!

Vegetarian Restaurants in Tashkent

Ecorn – This place was our favorite. It was in the capital, so it was not the norm for Uzbekistan, but the service was fantastic, and the vegetarian options were plentiful and easy to read. Ecorn is committed to healthy farm-to-table options that are good for the environment and the body. Along with a full bakery, perfect for breakfast, there was a dining area for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Our server welcomed us to the city and helped teach us some local phrases. We ordered iced coffee (ask for no straw), a vegetarian platter with spinach and veggie patties, a boiled egg, a toastie, and nut butter. This dish was easy to make vegan, if needed. 

ecorn vegetarian food tashkent

Indian Restaurants –  There are a few Indian restaurants in Tashkent with veggie masala, spinach paneer, and typical vegetarian and vegan options for Indian restaurants. The Host is one such example.

Jumanji –  Jumanji has everything from traditional Uzbek dishes, sushi, and salads. With such an extensive menu, they have several pages of vegetarian food options, and the staff is willing to help you find what you need.

Potter Mania – There is a Harry Potter-themed restaurant in Tashkent, proving that J.K Rowling has touched every corner of the globe. You will find magical foods and drinks like pumpkin juice and a decent vegetarian menu with some vegan options for customization. They have a large selection of smoothies and juices if you want something healthy. I suggest grabbing decent healthy options any chance you can get. 

Brocolli – This is the perfect spot for vegans or vegetarians wanting control over their eating. At Brocolli, you make your salad or bowl, adding ingredients to fit your dietary needs. Ask any staff members for help to ensure your bowl is vegan or vegetarian.

Skip Chorso Market: Almost every travel blog covering Uzbekistan tells you to explore the Chorso Market. Honestly, I was not impressed and found alternative ways to engage with locals. But I digress: Half of this is a meat market, and I traumatized myself by entering. I have a phobia of most meats, especially raw meat or meat that still looks like part of a butchered animal. Yes, to this day, I have never cooked steak or pork, and I cooked raw chicken maybe 2x in my life. If you don’t like animal parts or raw meat, skip this market. I’ll save you the graphic details, but if you don’t like to see animal parts, then do yourself a favor and skip this market.

Vegetarian Restaurants in Bukhara

Bukhara had loads of traditional Uzbek restaurants with veggie menus and substitutions. It was quickly our favorite place for vegetarian food during our entire trip through Central Asia. We barely ate the same thing twice! While just about everywhere at least served french fries, bread, and a salad, here are some of our favorites from the trip.

Temir’s – We ate here twice, partly because it was close to our excellent hotel Malika, partly because of their wide variety of vegetarian options. Temir’s had a lovely partially covered terrace with cooling fans, so we enjoyed the ambiance. Their vegetarian options were not condensed, so you had to look through each category to find them, but English translations accompanied them. During our two visits, we ordered pumpkin steamed dumplings, pumpkin samsas, eggplant rolls, eggplant salad, veggie kebap and lots of delicious Uzbek bread. Our servers knew the concept of vegetarianism and were quite helpful.

vegetarian food bukhara uzbekistan central asia

Vegetarian eggplant rolls!

Old Bukhara Restaurant – This wins the award for the best atmosphere. With a massive outdoor terrace on its rooftop, it is a great place to enjoy a romantic dinner overlooking the old town after sunset. They had one page of vegetarian options. We were happy to find vegetarian laghman, a traditional dish, usually served with horse meat. The noodles are traditionally wheat hand-pulled, making it vegan-friendly, but it doesn’t hurt to ask, just in case. We paired it with a cheese sampler and some local wine.

vegetarian food bukhara laghman

vegetarian laghman

Minzifa – We came here after Lonely Planet recommended them as a great place to get coffee (most places serve tea, not coffee), but we were surprised to see how many vegetarian food options they had on their menu. We ordered a few small plates and shared them. They had fried cheese balls, lavash with cheese and tomato, and a vegan eggplant and tomato snack. It is a bit hidden down a side road, but well worth coming to if you enjoy fantastic coffee and vegetarian food.

vegetarian food bukhara uzbekistan central asia

Vegan dish at Minzifa

Tea & Coffee Khona – We meant to make it in this place but never did. However, their menu board outside was advertising vegan soups. It was too hot for us to stomach soup, but their menu had vegan pumpkin soup, tomato soup, and other options. They also serve coffee and tea in a great location overlooking a bazaar near the old town center.

Hotel Malika – Malika was our home base for a few days, and their vegetarian breakfast was fantastic! They had a full buffet of fruit, veggies, jams, veggie samsas, vegetarian omelets, sweets, and more. The staff spoke fantastic English and were up to help us find great places to eat.

Vegetarian Restaurants in Samarkand

Samarkand was probably the most difficult in Uzbekistan, but they did have some options!

Antika BnB – We stayed here while in Samarkand and just LOVED it. The hosts were wonderful and engaging, and the property was adorable. Breakfast was included daily and was 100% vegetarian with crepes and homemade jam, bircher muesli, fruit, and more. Dinner is a rotating menu that is not included and can be purchased separately. Some days there was plov and meat; other days, they had a vegetarian meal, so it was the luck of the draw. You MIGHT be able to ask for a veggie option with a host during your check-in, but on days when meat was on the menu, we just headed into town.

vegetarian food Samarkand Uzbekistan

Vegetarian breakfast at our BnB Antica.

Old City Restaurant- Get ready for vegan plov, made with raisins, apples, pepper, and garlic – yay, no horse! They speak some English, and while their menu isn’t labeled vegan, the staff understands the concept. They will make vegan plov or help you with other customizations—probably the best place for vegetarians in Samarkand.

Bibikhanum Teahouse – This place was just ok, but it was veggie-friendly. They had couch tables, which was a fun experience. Their veggie options listed were basic, like plain cold salads with fresh fries. Most of their servers were young children, which is not uncommon in Uzbekistan, but it still makes me uncomfortable to see child labor.

vegetarian food in Samarkand Uzbekistan

French fry salad- sure, why not?

Oasis Garden – Oasis Garden is marketed to British/English-speaking tourists, so they speak English and have a vegetarian menu. They accommodate large groups but welcome smaller tables as well.

Vegetarian Restaurants in Khiva

We did not go to Khiva; however, through research and a few resources, I will leave some suggestions for you. Mirza Boshi has vegan ravioli, veggie pasta, soups, and salads. Cafe Zarafshon has vegan bean salad, veggie pasta, and eggplant rolls. Terrassa Cafe has tomato towers, green bean salads, and other various veggie dishes on their menu – the view looks impressive too!

Vegetarian Guide to Kazakhstan

While Almaty and Nur-Sultan were relatively easy to eat at meatless once you head off into the smaller towns or nature, it is very difficult to avoid -So if you are determined to eat only vegan with no exceptions, I suggest going to a supermarket before you leave a city. 

Kazakhstan had fewer veggie-based traditional options than we found in Uzbekistan. For example, their salads were chopped tomatoes and cucumbers instead of the eggplant and pumpkin dishes in Uzbekistan. Most of the veggie options we found in Kazakhstan were international cuisines and fusion. Look for Indian restaurants for vegan curry, Thai restaurants for tofu curry, Wok restaurants for veggie stir fry, and Italian for vegetarian pizza. We were traveling with friends, so I took fewer photos during this portion – sorry!

cheese samsa in Kazakhstan

Cheese samsa from a Kazakh supermarket.

Vegetarian Restaurants in Nur Sulta (Astana)

Veggie Cafe 108m2 – You can’t go wrong with a name like Veggie Cafe. It is supposedly the city’s first vegetarian cafe, opening in 2016. The menu has more traditional offerings like veggie dumplings and food commonly found in North America, such as wraps and health food salads. They also have veggie burgers if you’re more in the mood for comfort food.

Koktem – A large sit-down restaurant with two separate kitchens. You order at the counter. The first kitchen has an extensive vegetarian and vegan menu. I ordered a hummus and veggie snack and a pumpkin veggie wrap, and my husband got a veggie burger. The other kitchen has Indian food, with plenty of vegan Indian food and veggie curries, rice dishes, and snacks.

Tselinnikov –  We visited local friends in Nur Sultan, and they took us out to dinner one night. It is traditional Georgian food, which means the mains are mostly meat, but as we found with most Georgian places, there were many vegetarian sides. We ordered mix-and-match veggie dumplings at this place for a tasty meal. They had cheese-stuffed mushrooms that were to die for and, of course, that Georgian bread filled with cheese and egg! 

Georgian vegetarian food in Kazakhstan

Trawa Modern Vegetarian – Nur Sultan’s go-to place for upscale dining for every dietary need. With a full menu of strictly vegan and vegetarian foods and gluten-free options, Trawna Modern Vegetarian in Nur Sultan may become your new best friend. The menu has dumplings, stuffed mushrooms, burgers, pasta, salads, and more! Nom nom!

Vegetarian Restaurants in Almaty

Almaty was a modern city with name brands you recognize and many progressive fusion foods from East Asia. We stayed in the mountains at Hotel Kazakhstan and did most of our dining on location. But we managed to grab a few quick eats in the city.

Luckee Yu is a Chinese/Japanese fusion casual option with many shared tapas-style foods. We ordered glass noodles with veggies, cucumber salad, veggie dumplings, and a stir-fried eggplant dish. Nearby Hotel Kazakhstan is a spot called Thai and Noodles, which also has veggie options on the menu.

Daredzhani –  Another Georgian restaurant, this one has a bit more on the menu than the one in Nur Sultan, featuring plenty of vegan options. As with most places, you must pick a few vegan or vegetarian sides to make a meal, but the wait staff should help you. They serve green bean salads, soups, stuffed eggplant, and more.

pumpkin dumplings vegetarian food in central asia

Pumpkin-filled dumplings.

Shymbulak Ski Resort Hotel Up in the mountains, we stayed at this resort for day access to hiking and exploring. I ordered a salad with pomegranate, fresh greens, local cheese, and a yummy dressing. Another time I got lentil soup. They had about 5-7 vegetarian items on their menu. They served loads of veggies, fruit, jam, toast, and very little meat for breakfast. The rooms were basic, but the food was fantastic.

Remote Kazakhstan

We rented an AWD car and headed out to Saty, a tiny town exploding due to a sudden interest in tourism. Saty is an excellent location to access KolSai Lakes National Park and Kaindy Lake. On the way from Almaty to Saty, we also stopped at Charyn Canyon National Park. At this point, we were out of the city, and while we had snacks for the road, we stopped at a roadside restaurant for lunch.

We sat at the table outside, and the owner brought out menus. While looking it over, we noticed a grey water channel running alongside the restaurant. Every few minutes, a piece of food would come bobbing down, and someone would stop by to wash their hands or use the hole-in-the-ground bathroom around the back. While our friends spoke Russian, we weren’t 100% sure what the water was for and determined that they likely rinsed food in this channel.  I am glad I didn’t eat the veggies in this area because as we got back in the car, we passed lots of produce vendors sitting outside along this channel, and I think it was for rinsing produce. This was one of those times when it could be good to have snacks on hand.

Once in Saty, we booked a guesthouse with meals (breakfast and dinner) included. Our host spoke no English. We had vegetarian (with milk) porridge, jam, and bread for breakfast. Dinner consisted of a platter of meat dumplings, fresh salad, fried and battered dough with jam, and cookies. We ate with the handful of people staying in the guesthouse, so eating only the salad, dough and jam for a vegetarian meal was possible without appearing rude. 

The next day we explored the lakes and national parks around Saty. Since we had already checked out, we were on our own to find lunch. At least when we traveled back in 2019, nothing came up when we typed “food” into Google Maps for Saty. But, just about every person in Saty has turned their home into a guest house due to a significant tourism boom and offered food to their guests. We found a TINY corner market, a yurt/restaurant, and someone offering to cook for us in their kitchen. We chose the Yurt Cafe. Speaking Russian to our friends, the owner gave us the option of four types of meat. I wasn’t feeling great, so I opted for bread and water. Ganesh asked for plain plov, and he was sure it was one of those times they just picked the meat out before serving it to him. He is generally more flexible when traveling in rural areas than I am.

At this point, we were all feeling unsettled stomachs, so our friends suggested we order horse milk. It tasted acidic, but I was happy to accept anything to help me settle my stomach.  

Vegetarian Guide to Kyrgyzstan

Unfortunately, we spent the least amount of time in Kyrgyzstan and did not go into the mountains to do a rural stay as many do, so this guide might not apply if you have multiple days in the mountains with a tribe. We lucked out with some great vegetarian options close to Bishkek. For our day trips, we loaded up on food from the supermarket and used the kitchen at Interhouse to pack sandwiches and snacks for the road. 

Vegetarian Restaurants in Bishkek

Biskek is a relatively modern city with decent vegetarian food options. The supermarket we went to had a small health food section with soy milk, dried fruit, muesli, and nuts, which we brought on our hike. In Bishkek, coffee houses are your best friend. Bishkek has some fantastic coffee, and most boast a vegetarian or vegan menu. Vegetarian toasties were our best friends here.

Baan Baan Thai –  We came here because it was right next to Save the Ales, a craft brewery owned by women. You can eat and order Thai food while drinking craft beer! We ordered a yummy spicy tofu dish and vegetarian curries. While the curry was a bit oily for me, it worked, and the veggie appetizers were delicious!

vegan vegetarian food guide to kyrgyzstan

Spicy tofu at Baan Baan

Sierra Coffee Manas Ave – This coffee house caters to foreigners and ex-pats. That means you can choose between tons of salads, wraps, over-the-top coffees, and soups, all accompanied by English-speaking staff. They even have free wifi, so you can get some work done. 

Vinothek – An upscale wine bar featuring wines from around the world accompanied by an Italian menu. Order the vegetarian pizza, vegan bruschetta, or vegan grilled veggies.

Share with Other Vegetarians!

 Traveling through Central Asia will be challenging but not impossible if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. Have you visited Central Asia as a vegetarian? Let me know what your experience was like or if you have any additional tips in the comments. Make sure you share to give other vegetarians a fighting chance!

Vegetarian Survival Guide copy
Vegetarian Survival Guide to Central Asia: Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan