We have been travelling to Uzbekistan for nearly 20 years. During our first visit in 2004, finding vegetarian food in Uzbekistan was quite a challenge. Few shops even had refrigerators to store any fresh food. The standard diet consisted of bread and meat. Even now, Uzbekistan’s national dishes are rice pilaf with mutton (plov), meat kebabs, and meat-filled pastries (somsa). But things changed for the better over the years. Read what you can expect in terms of vegetarian food in Uzbekistan in 2022.
The vegetarian basics – Bread and Salad
Bread, or non is the ubiquitous food in Uzbekistan. It comes with every meal and is almost always fresh and tasty. Another mainstay for any vegetarian in Uzbekistan is achikchuk, a tomato salad with onions and sometimes cucumbers. Well, definitely there’s always tomatoes, and they are very intense, sweet, and tasty. Over the years we have had many dinners consisting of bread and tomatoes, with luck complemented with yogurt or eggs.
Vegetarian breakfasts in Uzbekistan
For vegetarian travellers in Uzbekistan breakfast, especially in private guesthouses, might be the best meal of the day. In almost all hotels and guesthouses, fried eggs and bread are the mainstay for breakfast. If you are vegetarian it is worth to ask if they can do something different instead (otherwise you will end up with fried eggs most days). Often the alternative to eggs is kasha. This can be a kind of porridge from various grains, or a sweet milky rice porridge. In family homestays, there is a good chance to get also home-made marmalades, pancakes, or some kind of vegetable buns.
Traditional Uzbek food and its vegetarian versions
Much to our delight, recently the traditional Uzbek food is sometimes also available in a vegetarian version. At least this is true in the more touristy cities like Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva. Even Uzbeks enjoy somsa filled with potato or pumpkin instead of meat. Unfortunately often they still taste of mutton fat. Manti, a kind of stuffed ravioli, are sometimes offered with pumpkin, cabbage or potato filling too. The vegetarian laghman (noodle) you will find on several menus are more tricky. Usually this means that someone picked out the meat – and there will be still some small pieces of meat in the soup. We also tried the vegetarian plov on several occasions, but found it a bit bland: more like rice with vegetables. It seems that the special taste in plov comes from the meat.
The vegetarian delights of Khiva
The town of Khiva in the Northern province of Khorezm offers two regional specialities that are (almost) vegetarian: Tukhum Barak and Shivit Osh. Tukhum Barak are egg-filled ravioli-style noodles that are served with a rich yoghurt sauce. In fact they are somewhat bigger than ravioli and Germans may find them reminiscent of Maultaschen. Shivit Osh are green dill noodles served with some tomato sauce with meat, as well as potatoes and yoghurt. As the sauce usually comes in a small extra pot, this dish can easily be adjusted to vegetarians. These two dishes make for great vegetarian food in Uzbekistan.
What to order if there is no vegetarian food on the menu
If you are travelling in non-touristy, more rural places there will be less choice of vegetarian food in Uzbekistan. Recently fast-food has become quite popular, especially Turkish dishes. In bigger cities like Karshi or Termez you should be able to find a pizza or pide without meat. During our last trip had some tasty cheese-honey pide in the Fergana valley. Even in the most remote Uzbek countryside, there will always be non and achikchuk (see above). Other things you could ask for are French fries (fri) with sauce (a red tomato sauce, not really ketchup). A plate of garnir consists of several side dishes, like fries, buckwheat porridge, rice and such. It makes for a good emergency option of vegetarian food in Uzbekistan.
The only place in Uzbekistan where you will find foreign restaurants is Tashkent. Georgian restaurants have a long tradition in Uzbekistan and offer many vegetarian dishes, such as Khachapuri (a bit like a very cheesy pizza) and Kinkali (dumplings filled with cheese or mushroom). Indian restaurants are obviously also a good choice for vegetarians. Tashkent has a huge Korean population. While the Korean cuisine is heavily meat-based too, the Korean restaurants usually have some tofu and vegetable dishes, several pickles, rice and vegetarian (cold) noodle soup on the menu (the soup is called kuksu). You will also find it on menus in the Chimgan Mountains in summer.
During our latest research trips we found that canteen-style self-service cafés with many vegetable dishes are becoming increasingly popular. They are called “diet café” although we didn’t think the food was particularly fat-free or health-obsessed. Nevertheless, compared to most Uzbek eateries they serve less meat and less deep-fried food and are thus considered healthy. On offer are salads, different kinds of cooked vegetables, cake and fruits (besides the meat dishes). Usually there is a counter where you can just point at the food you want. It’s very convenient for travellers! Unfortunately the Diet Cafés often close around 6 or 7 pm.
And then there are the colourful markets, where you can buy wonderful fresh fruits in summer. Self-catering is usually also possible, but you will end with a lot of bread, cheese and pickles.
Overall, finding vegetarian food in Uzbekistan has become much easier over the last years. And in most places you will eat decently as a vegetarian.
Have you been travelling and trying to find vegetarian food in Uzbekistan? What did you eat and like? Let us know your experiences in the comments.
Never miss a new post! Get notifications about new posts straight into your inbox!
Want to pin this post? Do it here!