plate filled with fruit plov vegetarian food in Uzbekistan

By Ryan Ettenfield. This guide to eating vegetarian in Uzbekistan contains affiliate links to trusted partners!

Want to know where to find delicious vegetarian food in Uzbekistan and the top plant-based dishes to try?

Then you’re in the right place!

Uzbekistan is a land of beautiful architecture, friendly people, and wonderfully sunny weather.

It has a long and complex history as a trade hub along the Silk Road, where goods such as silk, spices, gold, and cotton were traded for more than 1,500 years.

If you’re planning a Silk Road adventure to Uzbekistan, you might be concerned about its meat-heavy diet. While it’s true that vegetarian options are limited, a little bit of knowledge will help you enjoy your trip without worrying about where to find your next meal.

Having lived in Uzbekistan for two years, I’ve helped family and friends to seek out the best vegetarian food in Uzbekistan. I’m also friends with the country’s only vegan food tour leader!

The stunning Sher-Dor Madrasah monument in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, featuring intricate tile work and architectural details under a clear blue sky. This historic site is a prominent example of Islamic architecture in Central Asia.
Sher-Dor Madrasah in Samarkand, one of the most famous monuments in Uzbekistan. Photo via Ryan Ettenfield.

Is It Hard To Find Vegetarian Food In Uzbekistan?

Finding vegetarian food in Uzbekistan can be challenging, but it’s certainly possible. At first glance, it might seem like there are almost no vegetarian options, but you can quickly learn where to find them.

Being vegetarian is easier than being vegan, as there are many dairy products in Uzbekistan; however, both vegetarians and vegans can get by with a bit of know-how. There is vegan food in Uzbekistan, although not a huge amount.

Since vegetarianism is not well understood here, traditional Uzbek restaurants have limited offerings for vegetarians. Most modern restaurants that cater to tourists are familiar with the concept of vegetarianism and usually offer some vegetarian options, but it’s not something you can count on everywhere.

If you don’t stray too far off the beaten path, you’re likely to be ok. If traveling to Bukhara, Samarkand, or Khiva, you’ll have better luck finding restaurants that accommodate vegetarian diets due to the higher influx of foreign guests.

A wide view of Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, showcasing various stalls and vendors. This bustling market is an excellent place to find fresh produce and ingredients for vegetarian dishes, highlighting the availability of vegetarian food in Uzbekistan.
Farmer’s markets, like the Chorsu Bazaar in Tashkent, can be great for finding vegetarian food in Uzbekistan. Photo via Nicole Ashley Rahayu Densmoor / Pexels.

In addition to restaurants, farmer’s markets (known as bazaars) are excellent places to find vegetarian snacks. These markets are abundant with fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and even some vegetarian street food, providing plenty of novel and tasty options to sample.

As a tourist in Uzbekistan, you’ll naturally want to explore the local cuisine. While there are traditional Uzbek meals suitable for vegetarians and vegans, the choices are limited, and you might crave a bit of variety.

Fortunately, Uzbekistan’s diverse population means there are many other ethnic cuisines available. Russian and Korean restaurants typically offer an array of salads and vegetable side dishes, while Indian restaurants are a reliable oasis for vegetarians, offering a wide selection of vegetarian dishes.

🍅 Visiting Tashkent? Consider booking a Tashkent Vegan Street Food Tour, which includes stops at local markets and Uzbek eateries to sample vegan plov, delicious dumplings, and more!

Delicious Vegetarian Dishes In Uzbekistan

On that note, let’s go over some specific plant-based dishes to try during your trip to Uzbekistan.

Vegetarian Meals in Uzbekistan

Fruit Plov

A beautifully presented plate of vegetarian-friendly fruit plov served at the Afsona vegetarian restaurant in Uzbekistan. This dish features vibrant rice mixed with various fruits, highlighting the delicious vegetarian options available in Uzbek cuisine.
Fruit plov at Afsona Restaurant in Tashkent. Photo via Ryan Ettenfield.

Plov is the national dish of Uzbekistan, and it would be a shame not to try it. It’s a fried rice dish cooked with vegetables, spices, and sometimes chickpeas. Traditionally, it’s cooked with lamb or beef and is often served with horse sausage.

Catering to the needs of vegans and vegetarians, a small number of restaurants offer a vegan version that includes dried fruits such as apricots, apples, and raisins.

In Tashkent, you can find vegetarian plov at Afsona Restaurant (includes butter) and vegan plov at Tashkent’s vegetarian Eco Cafe and also at Khiva Restaurant in the Hyatt Hotel.

Bread

Freshly baked Samarkand bread displayed at Siab Bazaar in Uzbekistan. This traditional bread is a popular vegetarian option and a staple in Uzbek cuisine, often enjoyed by those seeking vegetarian-friendly foods.
Samarkand Bread at Siab Bazaar. Photo via Ryan Ettenfield.

Bread is more than just a staple food in Uzbekistan. It’s present at virtually every meal and is used ceremonially for example at family events such as weddings.

Each region of Uzbekistan has its own version of bread, known locally as non. In general, Uzbek bread is round and flat, sometimes topped with sesame seeds and sometimes decorated in patterns.

Bread is best bought at bazaars where it will be the freshest. Samarkand bread is thick with a smooth and shiny outer surface and can be bought from Siab Bazaar.

Vegetable Skewers

Delicious grilled vegetable skewers served at a vegetarian restaurant in Uzbekistan, featuring charred tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. A tasty and colorful example of vegetarian options available in Uzbek cuisine.
Grilled vegetable skewers. Photo via Ryan Ettenfield.

Grilled skewers, locally known as shashlik, are traditionally made of lamb or beef, but most places selling shashlik also offer vegetable skewers.

Common ingredients for vegetable shashlik include mushrooms, tomatoes, sweetcorn, onion, and peppers.

Skewers are typically served with onions marinated in vinegar and a thin tomato sauce with a subtle hint of chili.

Achichuk

A vibrant plate of achichuk salad, made with fresh tomatoes, onions, and green herbs, served alongside a cup of lemon tea in Uzbekistan. This dish is a popular vegetarian option in Uzbek cuisine.
Achichuk salad with lemon tea. Photo via Ryan Ettenfield.

Achichuk is a traditional Uzbek salad made from a base of tomatoes and onion. It’s a very basic salad but packs a lot of flavor.

Tomatoes in Uzbekistan are delicious and have a much richer flavor than tomatoes bought from supermarkets back in my home country of the United Kingdom.

Achichuk salad can have many variations and other ingredients such as cucumber, chopped spring onion, basil, red or green pepper, garlic, chili peppers, and soy sauce can be added.

Tukhum Barak

A close-up of tukhum barak, a traditional Uzbek dumpling dish, served with a creamy dipping sauce at Terrassa Cafe in Khiva, Uzbekistan. A delightful vegetarian option in Uzbek cuisine.
Eating tukhum barak at Terrassa Cafe in Khiva. Photo via Ryan Ettenfield.

Tukhum barak is an unusual dish found in Khiva. It’s akin to ravioli, filled with egg and typically served with sour cream. While it can be cooked with spices, I’ve always had it served without.

While not the most thrilling meal, it’s definitely worth a try for its cultural significance, given that it’s found almost exclusively in the Khorezm region.

Vegetarian Street Food and Snacks in Uzbekistan

Vegetarians are more likely to thrive on street food and snacks in Uzbekistan and the bazaars are wonderful for cheap and tasty treats to fuel you through the mausoleums, mosques, madrasas, and palaces that Uzbekistan is known for.

Vegetable Samosas

A plate featuring a spinach and feta samosa, cut open to reveal the filling, accompanied by a dish of Uzbek tomato sauce. This vegetarian dish highlights the fusion of flavors in Uzbek cuisine.
Spinach and feta samosa with an Uzbek tomato sauce. Photo via Ryan Ettenfield.

Samosas, known locally as somsa, are a prevalent snack in Uzbekistan. They’re typically filled with meat, but vegetarian options are also available.

While pumpkin is the most popular vegetable filling, spinach and potato varieties can also be found.

They’re cooked attached to the sides of a traditional clay oven called a tandir and are best enjoyed piping hot.

Khanum

A vendor at Chorsu Bazaar in Uzbekistan standing behind a large bowl of Uzbek 'lasagna', a layered vegetable and noodle dish. This vegetarian-friendly option showcases the diverse and delicious vegetarian dishes available in Uzbek cuisine.
Uzbek ‘lasagna’ at Chorsu Bazaar. Photo via Ryan Ettenfield.

Khanum is a steamed floury roll typically filled with potato and tomato sauce, resembling an Uzbek version of lasagne.

Occasionally, it may contain meat, so it’s important to specify if you want it without meat by using the phrase “bez myasa” (“without meat”).

It’s not commonly sold in restaurants but you’ll often find it in the bazaars. The khanum sold in Chorsu Bazaar is meat-free.

Fresh Fruit in Uzbekistan

A vibrant display of fresh fruits at Tashkent's Alay Bazaar in Uzbekistan, featuring a variety of apples, pears, oranges, cherries, and other seasonal produce. An excellent spot for finding fresh ingredients for vegetarian dishes.
Fresh fruit at Tashkent’s Alay Bazaar. Photo via Ryan Ettenfield.

Fruit thrives in Uzbekistan, especially in the Fergana Valley in the east of the country. Fruit is available from the bazaars all year round but fresh, seasonal fruit starts to appear from the middle of May.

One of the best times to visit Uzbekistan is in September when the weather is warm but not too hot and the fruit has been harvested.

Uzbekistan is particularly great for watermelons. apricots, unripened sour apricots, grapes, and pomegranates but you’ll also find cherries, apples, pears, quince, plums, and many types of berries.

Mulberry trees also line city centers, providing passersby with free, healthy snacks.

Dried Fruit and Nuts

A variety of dried fruits and nuts on display at Toshkent Marketplace in Uzbekistan. The selection includes almonds, pistachios, figs, and more, showcasing the rich array of vegetarian-friendly snacks and ingredients available.
Dried fruit and nuts in Toshkent Marketplace. Photo via Artem Asset / Unsplash.

Head to even the smallest bazaar and you’ll discover boxes upon boxes of dried fruit and nuts. Dried apricots, raisins, and sultanas are very common and you can also find figs, prunes, and plums.

Pistachios grow very well in Uzbekistan and can be found everywhere you go. You’ll also encounter a variety of nuts such as walnuts, peanuts, almonds, and more.

Vegetarian Dishes Of Foreign Origin

As a multicultural country, there are plenty of other cuisines in Uzbekistan, particularly in Tashkent but also in Samarkand and Bukhara. They tend to have more vegetarian options.

Indian

While Uzbek cuisine may not boast the same level of heat or intricate spice blends as Indian food, there are notable similarities between the two culinary traditions.

Both cuisines feature beloved dishes like samosas, grilled kebabs, and flatbreads. Additionally, Uzbek plov bears a resemblance to Indian pilau rice.

For those seeking alternative vegan and vegetarian options in Uzbekistan, Indian restaurants offer a wise choice.

With a small but growing Indian population, spurred in part by the influx of Indian students studying in Uzbekistan, establishments like The Curry House in Tashkent have become particularly popular among foreigners.

A basket of freshly baked Indian flatbread, a popular vegetarian-friendly food available at local Indian restaurants in Uzbekistan. The flatbread is golden brown and seasoned with herbs, perfect for pairing with various vegetarian dishes.
Vegetarians in Uzbekistan can opt for Indian flatbread for a tasty meat-free snack. Photo via Francesco Paggiaro / Pexels.

Russian

Russians have been present in Uzbekistan since the mid-19th century, and it’s fair to say that plenty of Russian food has been adopted into Uzbek menus, particularly salads.

Vinegret is a salad made from beetroot, potato, beans, and cucumber, while vitamin salad is made from carrots and cabbage.

You don’t have to visit a Russian restaurant to find them, as they are commonly sold at Uzbek restaurants.

Korean

During Soviet rule, many Koreans were deported to Uzbekistan, resulting in the presence of ethnic Korean communities in the country to this day.

In Uzbekistan, Korean side dishes, known as banchan in Korea, are abundant and can be found in bazaars across the country.

While kimchi is a well-known option, there is a wide variety of fermented, pickled, and salted vegetables and beans to choose from.

For an affordable and delicious meal, purchase half an Uzbek flatbread and visit one of the Korean stalls at a bazaar, where you can request to have it filled with various side dishes.

A bowl of vibrant kimchi, a spicy and flavorful vegetarian dish made from fermented vegetables, garnished with fresh green onions and served with chopsticks. This tasty dish can be found in Uzbekistan, adding to the diverse vegetarian options available.
Kimchi is a tasty vegetarian dish that can be found in Uzbekistan. Photo via Mario K / Pexels.

Tips For Eating Vegetarian In Uzbekistan

Now that we’ve gone over some delicious vegetarian food in Uzbekistan, let me share a few tips that will make plant-based eating easier in the country:

1. If you want to order something vegetarian, make sure to say “bez myasa,” meaning “without meat” in Russian. For example, “plov bez myasa” means plov without meat.

2. Akmal, a friend of mine and a local vegan tour guide, suggests planning in advance for different scenarios. Miscommunication, coupled with a lack of understanding, means there’s always the chance you’ll accidentally order something you didn’t intend to. What will you do if you’re accidentally served meat?

3. If planning on leaving the main cities for a trip to smaller, more traditional areas, it’s advisable to visit a bazaar first and stock up on bread, fruit, nuts, and any other snacks you desire. Eating out in smaller towns can be more challenging to navigate, so having snacks on hand is a wise precaution.

4. For a list of vegetarian-friendly restaurants in each city, download the Happy Cow app. While there are very few exclusively vegetarian restaurants in Uzbekistan, Happy Cow provides plenty of information on restaurants with vegetarian options.

5. Use Google Translate for communication. While learning to express your needs in the local language is beneficial, communication can be challenging in Uzbekistan, where multiple languages, including Uzbek, Russian, Karakalpak, and Tajik, are all spoken.

A woman scrolling on her smartphone, using apps like Happy Cow and Google Translate, which can make it easier to find and enjoy vegetarian dishes in Uzbekistan.
Apps like Happy Cow and Google Translate can make it easier to find and enjoy vegetarian dishes in Uzbekistan. Photo via Porapak Apichodilok / Pexels.

Uzbekistan Vegetarian Food: FAQ

Still have questions about vegetarian food in Uzbekistan? Let me answer a few common questions right now:

Q) Is there vegetarian food in Uzbekistan?

There are plenty of options for vegetarians in Uzbekistan but full meals without meat are not that common. Vegetarian tourists can get by on smaller snacks such as vegetable skewers, pumpkin or spinach samosas, fresh and dried fruit, and nuts.

Q) Can you be a vegetarian in Uzbekistan?

The concept of vegetarianism or veganism is not particularly well understood in Uzbekistan but you can certainly enjoy a trip to Uzbekistan as a vegetarian tourist. Stick to popular restaurants—ideally with an English menu and English-speaking staff—and buy cheap and tasty snacks from the bazaars.

Q) What food is Uzbekistan famous for?

Uzbekistan is most famous for its version of plov, a rice dish cooked with meat and vegetables which is very common across Central Asia. Aside from plov, other popular meals in Uzbekistan include grilled meat skewers, samosas, lagman (a noodle soup of Uighur origin), and dumplings.

Q) What are some food taboos in Uzbekistan?

As mentioned earlier, bread is very important for Uzbek people. It’s used in rituals and there are certain rules connected with it.

As a tourist, you won’t be expected to know these but one of the main rules is that it should be torn by hand rather than cut with a knife. Additionally, it shouldn’t be placed upside down.

If you interact with locals there is a good chance you’ll be invited to somebody’s house for food. If this is the case, it’s best to be upfront and tell them beforehand that you can’t eat meat. Whilst this may cause some confusion, it’s better to do this before to avoid awkwardness later!

Being invited to a local’s house tends to involve a food marathon rather than some light snacks, so make sure you have an appetite. It’s also good practice to bring a small gift when entering somebody’s house.

Stacks of freshly baked non bread on display at a market in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. This traditional Uzbek bread is a popular vegetarian option and a staple in local cuisine.
Non bread in Samarkand. Photo via Farsizabon, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Final Thoughts On Finding Vegetarian Food In Uzbekistan

Finding vegetarian food in Uzbekistan can be challenging, but it’s doable with some planning and flexibility.

While traditional Uzbek restaurants have limited vegetarian offerings, modern and tourist-friendly eateries often provide suitable options.

Farmer’s markets, or bazaars, are excellent places to find fresh and dried fruits, nuts, and some vegetarian street food. Exploring the diverse ethnic cuisines in Uzbekistan, such as Indian, Korean, and Russian, can also help vegetarians find a variety of dishes.

With a bit of know-how, vegetarian travelers can comfortably visit Uzbekistan’s beautiful world-class historical monuments, like the majestic Registan Square, the walled fortress of Khiva, and the ancient fortress ruins in the deserts of Karakalpakstan.

What are your favorite dishes when it comes to vegetarian food in Uzbekistan?

About The Author

Ryan Ettenfield is a mathematics teacher and part-time travel writer based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. When not encouraging tourists to visit this misunderstood part of the world, he can be found getting sunburned in the parks and gardens of his newly adopted city. You can follow his adventures on his blog, TourCentralAsia, and on Instagram @TourCentralAsia.

Ryan Ettenfield

Ryan Ettenfield is a mathematics teacher and part-time travel writer based in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. When not encouraging tourists to visit this misunderstood part of the world, he can be found getting sunburned in the parks and gardens of his newly adopted city. You can follow his adventures on his blog, TourCentralAsia, and on Instagram @TourCentralAsia.

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