Are you vegetarian? Maybe vegan? Then either change your plans of travelling to Mongolia or be prepared for a bit of extra work while there. For Mongolian meals are based on meat and diary products. Even though with a little more cash you can buy almost anything (means veggies) you need to follow a vegetable based diet, you will have to think ahead when you try to figure out what you would eat on a daily basis during your stay. Obviously, if you book into a better quality hotel they will cater for your needs. However, if you are a backpacker or if you are on a low budget and you plan to eat in simple local restaurants – and you insist on your greens – then you might stay hungry.
In recent years my diet focused more and more on veggies. By the time I left for Mongolia in July 2016 weeks gone eating only vegetables without even noticing it. When I do eat meat it’s because I am lazy to find out what to cook. Because I grew up on a meaty diet it is still easier to grab a piece of chicken or pork and make something quickly than start searching for new recipes. Therefore, I made sure I would stay at a place in Ulaanbaatar where I can make my own food. It wouldn’t have been possible in a hotel however tempting (and paid!) the opportunity was so I booked into a student hostel. Summer time is ok, hardly anyone stays there, mostly tourists or short term residents, but from September dormitories become overcrowded and definitely not for someone who wants to do some work too.
Despite careful planning my trip turned out a very busy one and I couldn’t do my cooking at home. On most days I was eating out so I had to eat what I could easily find and that was almost always something with meat. In addition, when you are on the countryside it would be unrealistic to expect your hosts to provide a vegetable based menu. I must emphasize here that I love Mongolian food. Only from experience by now I know that I feel much better when I avoid animal products. Also, I try not to support industrial meat production. They cause so much harm at every level of life.
As an extra difficulty there is something strange with local food that makes many foreigners’ life a bit challenging in Mongolia. I haven’t met anyone who would not have had problem with indigestion. I also had a more serious one this time again, and a few thankfully mild ones. One advice I can give is that never leave for the countryside if you already have indigestion. I did so and it wasn’t fun. I avoid antibiotics like hell but this time I had to take them, there was no other option. There were no doctors nearby and I wouldn’t have been able to travel anywhere for a hospital in that state. We can’t figure out why this happens with so many of us, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with where or what we eat.
If you are not adventurous enough in terms of local food and your budget allows it then you can try many other nationalities’ restaurants in Ulaanbaatar including European, American and a variety of Asian places. Still, I would recommend eating like a local at least for a short while. Food is inseparable from a culture, it carries customs and traditions you will only know if you attend a celebration, meet locals and eat their food and drink their drinks.