On finding Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan – I should be so lucky
Can you find Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan in easily? I would say it is one of the harder countries for me, but then, I have never been to South America or elsewhere Central Asia. So, the answer is, Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan in relatively easily to come by, and it should not deter you from visiting if you are vegetarian or vegan.
Last year I visited Uzbekistan for the second time. Since my three fellow travellers backed out for health reasons / fear of being shot down by Russian rockets, it was just me and my tiny wheelie case… changing the itinerary around and now visiting not just some Silk Road Classics, but also the Fergana Valley and some, well, lesser known destinations mostly to do with Arts and Crafts. And seeing out Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan.
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I have been to Uzbekistan twice – first, in 2019 when flying via Russia was easy and feasible. I flew to Samarkand and visited Samarkand and Bukhara with two high-speed train rides between the cities. . I only had four full days in Uzbekistan so limited myself to the touristic highlights.
On my second trip of two weeks, I followed a pretty standard itinerary. Arriving in Tashkent, I spent a day in Tashkent and took a night train to Khiva. After two days in Khiva, another night train to Samarkand. I omitted Bukhara this time because I had seen everything I had wanted to see on my first trip. By skipping Bukhara, I was able to visit the fabled Urgut Market on a Sunday. Then I took a high speed train to Tashkent but spent all day trying to get to the Fergana Valley by share taxi – I learned it’s a lot more comfortable by train but those trains don’t run very frequently. Anyway – I spent about five days in Fergana Valley visiting Fergana, Rishton, Marghilon and its famous Kumtepe Bazaar Rishton, then returned to Tashkent for another day.
Types of cuisine available in Uzbekistan
Uzbek Cuisine, unfortunately for us non meat eaters, is very meat laden and meat is the principal snack, lunch and dinner. From spring to autumn into early winter, fresh seasonal fruit and vegetable, supplemented by all sorts of nuts, are also available.
Tashkent, being the capital city, has the widest range of types of cuisine. Of course, Uzbek cuisine is everywhere, from simple cafes to huge outdoor restaurants. In central Tashkent, near Mirobod Bazaar, you will find more international cuisine, mostly Georgian and Korean, due to the number of residents of Georgian or Korean origin there.
Where to find Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan by destination
Here are a few recommendations of restaurants where I are and/or that are known to cater to vegetarians. Generally speaking, touristic restaurants usually have a few vegetarian dishes. All recommended restaurants can be found in the map below. The map also contains some restaurants I visited but would not necessarily recommend ( see comment son map) and some place for fabric shopping (different blog post)
Generally speaking, the city with the broadest food offerings of Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan. Fast food and shashlik are almost anywhere, finding vegetarian food can be tricky. Places like the area around Shota Rustaveli ko’chasi and Mirobod ko’chasi are probably most promising.
This is great for self caterers as it has a plethora of fruit, vegetables, nuts and pickles. I did not see any formal restaurants, let alone vegetarian ones, but snack stalls serve great inexpensive foods like somsa between the flower market and the Uzbek Souvenir stalls. The cheapest somsa should be safe as they are usually filled with vegetables (ovoshchi) and/or potatoes (kartoshki)
One of many Korean restaurants of Tashkent, you may be able to avoid the meat, with fish it gets trickier, but there are at least a few vegetarian options. it may no tlook much from the outside, but inside it’s super clean and welcoming. Many kimchi and rice variations and pickles.
Where I stayed in Tashkent
I picked the Sapiens Hotel in that area between Rustaveli and Mirobod ko’chasi, and thankfully, I didn’t have to walk a mile for food like in the first hotel I stayed in (which was very nice but not that well located). It’s very modern and minimalist to the point of spartan but comfortable and friendly. Another bonus point: a cute cat that adopted the hotel and has become an official resident.
I would say Xiva was perhaps (and surprisingly!) the easiest place to find vegetarian food, not least because it’s touristy. The old walled city (Ichan Qa’la) is compact and walkable.
I would say this is my favourite restaurant in Xiva. It is outside the city walls – and was next to my hotel – so I went there first. Smaller groups full of cosplaying youngish tourists also visit and it does fill up, but the atmosphere remains pleasant and the owners are friendly and will make everything possible to seat you, especially if you are solo or a couple. I had one of the best aubergine dishes I ever tasted and some pleasant Shivit Oshi. I also noticed they are very strong on fresh juices – my watermelon juice was really great.
Terrassa Cafe and Restaurant
Very well known and in most guide books, this multi-level restaurant in an enviable position near the Ark is a great tourist option: comfortable multilingual staff, serves alcohol, very friendly. If you can, try to get a table on the terrace which offers stupendous sunset views.
During the day, you can get your Western Style cappuccino and caffe latte and Western desserts here before it turns into a bone fide restaurant in the afternoon. From warm and cold salads to pumpkin manti and vegetable shashlik, the menu is Uzbek with a touch of international and there is no shortage of vegetarian options. I also really took notice of how welcoming the staff was towards solo travellers. As the evening goes on, you will get some life music (love it or not) but no extra charge. The prices for such a fancy venue are not high, and this makes a nice exception in Khiva’s somewhat overpriced “cafe culture”.
Restaurant Xiva Kafe Milliy taomlar
Here’s a bit of a wild card in a pleasant area of Xiva outside the tourist circuit. Xiva can be touristy, and prices can rise disproportionately especially anywhere with a view or nice seating.
This local restaurant is very pleasant and green with a few parks and two or three hotels nearby. The menu is shashlik in 50 permutations, but some decent vegetarian options too like kimchi and laghman. Although – if you are a strict vegetarian or vegan it might not be the place for you, because I do think some of the dishes may contain broth – not sure, but cannot rule it out either. Also. it is better not to visit the bathroom here but this goes for many places in Uzbekistan.
Where I stayed in Xiva
I stayed at the Silk Road Caravan Sarai just outside the Ichon Qa’la, an actual ancient carvanserai with a superb little courtyard and pleasant, clean if somewhat dark rooms. This being a historical building, not much can be done about the rooms, which are actually all old cells, which have a small window into the courtyard, and offer great protection from the heat. Very neat, with a nod to traditional Uzbek style rather than modern interior which can veer on the over-the-top. I highly recommend. Only the breakfast really wasn’t good.
When I visited Bukhara back in 2019, the tourist season had not yet started,. Apart from the advantages (nice temperate weather, no crowds) it also meant many restaurants and hotels were still closed. And although I did wander out a bit to the Samanid Mausoleum, I did not see a great deal of restaurants or cafes outside the old town, and I visited some not so great places, too – no tby choice but because nothing else was open.
Minzifa is a lovely big restaurant a few steps away from Lyabi Hauz, with a pleasant outdoor terrasse which does get booked up by groups. With a cuisine that’s Uzbek with a fair few Russian and Western dishes in, any one should find something there. Spicing is definitely more for the Western palate, but it’s a nice option for an easy meal, with vegetarian dishes clearly marked.
Where I stayed in Bukhara
I stayed at the Boutique Hotel Minzifa which, as I understand has the same ownership as the restaurant. It’s a hotel in an old madrassah, and extremely beautiful, with some original features, and some imaginative tasteful traditional decor. From what I understand, they have now also renovated the neighbouring building and opened it as Minzifa Caravansarai, with somewhat simpler, toned down rooms. The rates vary between 40 Euro and 80 Euro which, for such a classy hotel, are extremely reasonable. Anyway, Bukhara is the place to splash out on a boutique hotel in a historic property.
For a huge city like Samarkand, I really struggled to find decent vegetarian food. Whereas in Bukhara and Xiva there are restaurants catering to tourists left, right and centre, Samarkand has yet to catch up. Thankfully, the Sivob Bazaar is next to Bibi Khanym Mosque and the fresh produce offerings are great from spring through to autumn.
Bibi Khanym Tea House
Incredibly touristy looking and right next to Bibi Khanym Mosque – can this be good? This was my first ever meal in Uzbekistan, and it was so nice that I returned there quite a few times. The seating, in a courtyard garden, is very pleasant, the staff speaks English, there are some Western dishes that are vegetarian and I also ate my way through their excellent salads, accompanied by fried potatoes. One of my favourite restaurants in SAmarkand and, as you can see, the only one I can recommend.
Again, having the use of a kitchen, I did eat a good amount of market kimchi, salad and fresh fruit after visiting a couple restaurants that just weren’t good.
Where I stayed in Samarkand
Samarkand must be the place where I stayed the most nights and I made it to three different guesthouses.
My first stay in Uzbekistan back in 2019 was at the Hotel Rahmon, just round the corner from Registan. It was in a traditional family home, a large building around a courtyard, super friendly resident owners who always welcome you in the huge kitchen/ sitting room. One of the laces where they take the welcome tea very serious. The rooms are older, the beds rock-hard, bathrooms small, and yes, rooms are spartan but very clean. Once I got used to the beds, I could not fault it. They also showed me some of their “new” rooms so it might be possible to see different rooms before setting on one. I wrote a detailed review here.
Then I wanted to stay in a different area and chose Antica Family Guesthouse. Basically a upmarket family-run residence. Again, very clean, one of the best breakfasts I was ever served in Uzbekistan, and again, a nice garden for guests to use. I paid about three tomes what I paid at Rahmon for a slight notch up in comfort. Again, nothing to fault, and perhaps a good option if you want to be the first or last at Gur Emir Mausoelum. I wrote a detailed review here.
Last not least, on my last trip, I picked the Old Radio Hostel, a new hostel that was opened just before the pandemic. I was so intrigued by the location – basically in the backyard of the Registan.
This was the destination where I really struggled to find vegetarian food in restaurants. So, I only have one recommendation for a restaurant. Since I was lucky to stay in places with a guest kitchen, I just went to the market, bought seasonal fruit and vegetables and ate a lot of fruit and salad, Very healthy, and a welcome break from the rather heavy carb-laden Uzbek cuisine.
What the Fergana Valley lacks in vegetarian-friendly restaurants, it cerstinly compensates with fresh produce and some of the best bread.
Beer House (Fergana)
After eating a pretty decent osh (meat- free as in: meat removed before serving) I was sceptical when my new friends took us to the beer garden of Fergana, one of a few places in the valley where they would serve alcohol. I was resigned to an evening of strange beer and pretzels, when, at my request, one of my mates entered a conversation with the BBQ master at the entrance of the beer garden, and to my great surprise, the pulled out marinated potatoes and vegetables out of the fridge. And what can I say: not only was the beer very nice, those marinated potato and vegetable shashlik was outstanding.
Where I stayed in Fergana Valley
Two great backpacker-friendly places: Sakura Guesthouse in Fergana and the Evergreen Guest House in Marghilon. Both were nice, clean, very reasonably priced, had a kitchen for self catering which I found quite important as a vegetarian in meat eating surroundings. The Evergreen has a slight edge for its superb gardens and more generously sized rooms and for including breakfast in its room rate, with vegetraian and vegan option if you let them know before the host starts cooking. Sakura has no outside space but a nice enough cafe – but no vegetarian food- by the entrance
Typical dishes that can be vegetarian/veganized
As menus in smaller restaurants are usually in Uzbek, it’s worth looking out for a few dishes that can easily be made vegetarian. Tourist restaurants usually have multilingual menus, at least in Russian and English.
Let’s start with a specialty of Khiva, the bright-green vegetarian dill noodle dish called Shivit Oshi. They are almost exclusive to Khiva and are quite similar to the German Spaetzle, usually made fresh. They are topped with potato and vegetable mix and often served with a side of sour cream. They are per se a vegetarian dish, so usually Uzbek restaurants like to top them with meat – just ask to leave the meat topping out.
These are pulled wheat noodles, usually served in a stew-like soup. Often made with meat broth, vegetarian versions are available. The broth is chili-spicy, often with dill and some vegetables, but the pulled noodles are the star here. A great filling and warming dish.
The best vegan food I had in Uzbekistan was shashlik. In general, any restaurant you visit that is not just a Osh-cooking tea house, should serve shashlik, and if you as nicely, they may be able to whip up a skewer of veggies with onions and potatoes. Since everything is grilled on charcoal, a simple seasoning makes this a vert satisfying vegan meal. From a very mediocre shashlik to an exceptional meal, I had everything good, bad and in between.
Osh / Plov
The Uzbek word for this filling ubiquitous rice dish is Osh, which can be confused with the Kyrgyz city of the same name, and its Russian name, Plov is still commonly used. Plov is a dish slow-cooked with meat and sometimes lard, and is almost never fully vegetarian unless you eat it in a tourist restaurant more aware of vegetarian customers. If you are okay with the Plov being cooked in meat juices, you can just ask for a serving without meat and pretty much any tiny cafe will be happy enough to oblige.
These filled dough pockets are boiled or fried and popular over a wide geographical area from Bosnia (Klepe) to Korea (Mandu). Traditionally, the dough is a yufka or pierogi made from flour, water and salt, but it is always worth double checking that it doesn’t contain milk or egg.
Vegetarian fillings in Uzbekistan are typically potato and pumpkin.
Another dough-based delicacy, often sold as as snack in the street. The vegetarian filling are traditionally potato, pumpkin, sometimes mushroom and seasonal vegetables. Unlike manti, their puff pastry dough is vegetarian not vegan as it contains clarified butter and sometimes eggs.
A salad in an Uzbek restaurant is almost always vegan and a side dish. From lightly pickled white cabbage, red cabbage, carrots, salad greens, to tomatoes and peppers, there is almost no limit to what goes in a salad when it’s in season.
Achichuk is a salad from tomatoes and onions with a bit of chili pepper, cilantro or basil and dressed with oil. Shakarp is very similar with tomatoes and onions. Around Persian New Year, you may come across Nowruz Salad which is made on the occasion, containing radish and lettuce but also eggs.
Beware of “Tashkent Salad” which has radish as a base but comes with mayonnaise and often mutton of beef mixed in. Also “Russian Salad” or Olivier Salad named after its creator, is heavy on mayonnaise and often cubed meat.
I think Georgian cuisine if one of the most vegetarian-friendly cuisines in the world. There is some significant use of cheese and eggs so not everything is suitable to vegans.
Look out for Phkali (walnut and greens appetizer), Nigvziani Badrijani (grilled aubergine rolls), Ajapsandali (vegetable stew), Lobio (kidney bean strew), Georgian salad and potato wedges (yes, the ones in Georgia are particularly good!) for vegan dishes.
Khinkali (dumplings) with vegetables or mushrooms, Khachapuri (egg bread), Lobinani, Phklovani and Mkhlovana (pies)
The Small Print on Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan
I visited Uzbekistan in March 2019 and then again in October 2022 on my own dime. Right now I struggle with the appropriate spelling of place names a bit, so while I try to use their Uzbek names, the English and sometimes even German spelling comes through. I understand that “international” spelling may bring this post up in searches better, so for now, I will keep using some anglicised spelling like “Uzbekistan” rather than the Uzbek ” Oʻzbekiston”. Names and spellings may change over time ( see: “Türkiye Cumhuriyeti“) and I do my best to keep track but it is not always possible, and last not least this remains an English-speaking blog so English it is in most cases.
All restaurants I visited and I have only included recommended restaurants in this post on Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan.
I stayed in all hotels recommended here some of which I booked directly, some using Booking.com. This post contains affiliate links to Booking.com, meaning that if you use these links, I may earn a small commission at no extra expense to you.
Map of recommended restaurants for Vegetarian food in Uzbekistan
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