More Mongolians are going vegetarian as people seek healthier
diets and restaurateurs seize the initiative. Vegetables remain
unpopular, though; menus tend to feature traditional meat dishes
made with soy.
An unlikely vegetarian movement is taking root in Mongolia, where
livestock outnumbers people 14 to 1 and meat consumption tops 200
pounds per person a year.
The first vegetarian restaurant in Mongolia, Ananda's Cafe,
opened in 2006. Today more than 20 vegetarian and vegan restaurants
pepper the capital, Ulan Bator, and a handful of others are
scattered throughout the country. Ananda's has launched a catering
service, and another popular restaurant, Luna Blanca, now sells
frozen faux-mutton dumplings in supermarkets.
The restaurateurs, mostly Mongolians, belong to Christian and
Buddhist-influenced spiritual movements that promote vegetarianism,
some of them fringe foreign meditation sects.
Mongolians are turning to vegetarianism "mostly because of
health. Also because of meditation - they're following this trend,"
says Solongo, a former assistant doctor for the United Nations, who
like most Mongolians uses only one name. She estimates that
vegetarians number around 30,000 or 40,000, just over 1 percent of
the population. In the US, about 3 percent of adults are vegetarian,
according to Vegetarian Times.
Increased trade with Russia and China and expanding Internet
access are providing more information about food and nutrition, she
"When things go to extremes, like extreme meat consumption,
things go to the other extreme," says Altanzaya, a sociologist and a
co-owner of Luna Blanca who considers herself Buddhist. "Our goal is
to make it available."
Mutton dumplings, meat stew
Mongolia's unique brand of Buddhism does not emphasize sparing
the lives of animals for food, probably out of pragmatism. The
country's dry, mountainous landscape and nomadic culture mean that
people have historically ignored agriculture and depended instead on
meat and dairy products.
That high-protein diet fueled Genghis Khan's hordes as they swept
across the known world some 800 years ago. Historians have noted
that Mongolian soldiers could ride for days at a time, drinking
blood from their horses' necks for nourishment on the go.
Some here consider meat the only real food. "If there's no meat,
[my father] doesn't consider it a meal. You give him leaves and he
says, 'What am I, a goat?" says Dolgor, a young mining company
The staples here are often bland, relying heavily on flour, rice,
and meat, particularly mutton. Dishes that most Mongolians refer to
as the "national foods," buuz and huushuur - mutton-filled dumplings
steamed or fried, respectively - and tsoivan, steamed noodles mixed
with meat and root vegetables, originated in China. …