How to survive as a vegetarian in Uzbekistan
Being a vegetarian has gotten much easier in recent years, especially in Europe. There’s always one vegetarian option on the menu. But here in Central Asia, things look a bit different. They eat a lot of meat here. Like, a lot. They don’t really understand the concept of being vegetarian so you’ll have explain to them a few times that you can’t eat meat, chicken or fish. Even when you’ve explained this, they’ll probably give you a few weird looks before asking you, yet again, if you want to eat the plov that’s been cooked in mutton fat.
It can get really frustrating to travel around Uzbekistan as a vegetarian, but as long as you just know where to go and what to ask for, you’ll be happy to know that it’s not impossible. It’s just a bit trickier.
The main dishes in Uzbekistan are pilaf (plov) and lagman, a noodle dish that’s usually cooked with beef or any other type of meat (in Kazakhstan it’s usually with horse meat for example). Even if you ask for plov or lagman without meat, they might just remove the actual meat from the dish, but it’s still been cooked with meat. So if that’s something you don’t want, it’s best to order something else. There are a few restaurants now, notably in Khiva, that serves vegetarian lagman and plov.
It’s much easier to find vegetarian dishes in the touristy parts of Uzbekistan such as Bukhara and Khiva. What you can do is download the app “Happy Cow” which will tell you where you can find vegetarian friendly restaurants. Don’t expect to find any all vegetarian restaurants in Uzbekistan though. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever come across anything like it here.
You can also hit the cafés. Although you might not want to eat café food every day, they still have a decent amount of selections usually. They can serve everything from pasta, pizza and sandwiches. Just ask for pizza without any meat for example or pasta with tomato sauce or such. It may not be the most thrilling dish you’ve eaten, but at least it’s not with meat.
If you’re getting sick of chasing vegetarian food in Uzbekistan, why not cook at home? Most hostels have kitchen areas where you can cook your own food. Buying fruits and vegetables at the supermarket is very affordable and you know exactly what’s inside your dish. I once ordered a lagman without meat, but I could taste in the sauce that it had been cooked with beef. So when you cook the dishes yourself, at least you know what you’re putting in your mouth.
The Uzbeks are very hospitable people and they’ll always make sure to find ways to cook a vegetarian meal for you. It’s just that sometimes they think it’s enough to just remove the meat from the dish, but not say that it’s been cooked with meat. So if you want to survive as a vegetarian in Uzbekistan, either learn to say in Russian that you cannot eat any type of meat, cook at home, hit the cafés, or be very lucky and find vegetarian dishes on the menu.
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