Gluten-free vegan in Central Asia

Talk about the forum & website, off-topic chatter, etc.
Posts: 29
Joined: Thu Mar 21, 2019 11:10 pm
x 1
x 2

Gluten-free vegan in Central Asia

Postby Will1981 » Thu Mar 21, 2019 11:33 pm

Hey all,

I will be in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in July/August 2019. I'm not generally a fussy person and am very happy to rough it, but diet is my one, rather glaring, exception. I'm vegetarian, don't tolerate gluten and struggle with lactose. Will this be a problem in these parts? I'm happy to subsist off rice, vegetables and fruit for a few weeks, but I'm worried that I might offend any locals who I stay with or share meals with. Would gladly take any advice on this topic.

At the risk of sounding really naive, I would also like to ask if the cities have health food shops? I like to buy organic food wherever possible and could always stock up on protein powder etc before I head off hiking.

Also, are oats are thing in these parts? They're my breakfast staple!
0 x

User avatar
Posts: 3682
Joined: Mon Jan 14, 2013 4:32 pm
x 3030
x 408

Re: Fussy eating on the Silk Road

Postby steven » Fri Mar 22, 2019 10:51 am

Your options are limited since the 3 staple foods in Central Asia are meat, dairy and pasta. So you will have to self-cater pretty much all the time. It's ok, we get plenty of vegans and they all manage.

For more forum threads and vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free food tips, see
1 x
If you like Caravanistan: we have opened a tip jar! We love you back! :D

Kazakhstan expert
Kazakhstan expert
Posts: 169
Joined: Wed Jul 11, 2018 5:36 pm
x 21
x 126

Re: Fussy eating on the Silk Road

Postby Julia » Fri Mar 22, 2019 5:40 pm

In big cities like Bishkek and Dushanbe you should be fine.
If go to distant villages especially in Tajikistan than may not find anything suitable for you to eat except potato and carrots (or apricots sometimes).
So make sure you stock up with food before going hiking.

I travelled with vegan friends. We stayed with locals. Nobody was offended when they refused eating meat. People understand.

There is no labeling like organic or not in Central Asia. Local fruits and veggies (not imported) are tasty and look natural (unlike imported ones). So we just buy local fruits/veggies from local markets.

Btw, dried fruits and nuts from local markets is good option to always have with you in case there no suitable food.
1 x

Tajikistan expert
Tajikistan expert
Posts: 85
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2018 7:14 pm
x 120

Re: Fussy eating on the Silk Road

Postby Christian77 » Fri Mar 22, 2019 6:12 pm

If it's a popular guesthouse then you should be fine. The people who run the guesthouses have had many guests who are vegetarian, Hindu or who are one of those Israeli backpacker quartets who are strictly kosher. They understand. But if it's a random person who has invited you in then, yes, you may get into an endless discussion of why you don't eat meat.

I've never travelled with a gluten-free diet person. But I think turning down bread in someone's home in Tajikistan is going to be... strange.

You might want to print out the Russia wikipedia article on the Gluten-free diet. If you show this to them they will be able understand that is a medical condition: ... 1%82%D0%B0

The article contains a list of acceptable foods.
1 x

Posts: 29
Joined: Thu Mar 21, 2019 11:10 pm
x 1
x 2

Re: Fussy eating on the Silk Road

Postby Will1981 » Sat Mar 23, 2019 11:04 pm

Thanks Steven, Julia and Christian,

That's some really useful advise! Sounds like it shouldn't be too much of an issue. Will just make sure I resupply when in the cities.

If anyone knows of anywhere in Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan to get some protein powder to keep me going when other options are scarce, that would be amazing.

Thanks again!
0 x

Posts: 21
Joined: Mon Jun 10, 2019 12:51 pm
x 1
x 13

Re: Fussy eating on the Silk Road

Postby Bethany » Fri Aug 16, 2019 6:55 pm

steven wrote:Your options are limited since the 3 staple foods in Central Asia are meat, dairy and pasta. So you will have to self-cater pretty much all the time. It's ok, we get plenty of vegans and they all manage.

For more forum threads and vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free food tips, see

Hi - appreciate this will be too late for the OP but wanted to add to this thread as I found it very hard to find info about gluten free travel in Central Asia before my trip (both on this site and from other resources) and this is one of the few threads that came up, but didn't really touch much on gluten free. I am not vegan so cannot comment on that, but as a lifelong Coeliac hope this might help someone else on a gf diet. I've never wanted to let a medical condition get in the way of my travel plans!!

Overall: Eating gf in Central Asia will get a bit repetitive, but is definitely possible for anyone who knows what to look out for. Not the easiest, but not the hardest region either. I managed 6 weeks through Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan without getting glutened :)

Understanding: I did not meet any local in a restaurant/guesthouse who had ever heard of gluten or coeliac disease. To start with I used Russian coeliac cards to explain ( but found it was pretty 50:50 if it helped so didn't bother after the 1st week or so. Even communicating about food groups (e.g. grains vs. vegetables vs. meat) seemed to confuse people. People really wanted to help though even if they didn't understand why!

Eating out:
    Breakfast - common breakfasts revolve around eggs (boiled eggs, fried eggs, omelettes) so these are all generally fine. If getting an omelette ask for meat free as the cheap processed meat they use almost definitely will contain gluten. Bread is always served with the eggs but in a seperate basket.
    Rice porridge, buckwheat porridge and semolina are all also served for breakfast. Semolina is not gf but the other 2 variants are so good options.

      Lunch - best places to eat are chaikhanas where the food is simple and it's clear what has gone into it. Most serve the following dishes: plov (rice with carrots and meat), lagman (noodle dish), manti (dumplings). Only plov is gf so get used to it. Plov is just cooked in one batch for the day so often runs out not long after midday so get used to eating lunch early.
      Many places also offer shashlyk (kebabs) which are normally served with raw onion. Lamb and beef are most common but chicken is also prevalent. They often have keema (mince) kebabs which I avoided as assumed they may have been thickened with flour, so just make sure to clarify what type when ordering.
      Most places will offer you a side salad of cucumber and tomatoes, often with onion and dill, with any of these meals.
      Again bread will be served, but on the side in a basket so you can just leave it.

        Dinner - definitely the hardest meal as chaikhanas will close and places which open late tend to have more gluten-based "European" or "American" style dishes such as pizza and pasta. However, if you do your research/ask around you will find good places to eat where you can get some variety. Best way is to pick a dish and ask questions to rule out potential allergens (e.g. ask if they coat their potatoes in flour to make them crispy), rather than the normal tack of asking them to suggest dishes given the lack of knowledge about gluten.
        In Kyrgyzstan specifically I found that soy sauce was used a lot (presumably Chinese influence) so make sure to check for that especially if ordering beef dishes.
        I also went to Indian/Pakistani restaurants for curry a couple of times in capital cities for a change.

          Cross contamination - The only caveat to all this is that it will be very hard to ensure that there is definitely 0% cross contamination unless you speak Russian (even then maybe still not possible). This didn't bother me as I avoided foods likely to be made with gluten-rich foods (e.g. in same oil).

          Watch out for the drinks sold in colourful barrels on the street in Kyrgyzstan in particular. These include kvass which is made from fermented rye bread and maksym shoro which is wheat based. Otherwise just avoid beer as normal and everything else should be ok.

          I only found supermarkets in Almaty which had a dedicated gf section (e.g Interfood). These sold gf pasta and biscuits, but at a high price similar to what you would pay in western Europe.
          Otherwise there are large supermarkets in the major cities with broad selections but you will need to choose naturally gluten free food.
          If you need to stock up on snacks some good options you can easily get are: dried fruit, nuts, rice cakes, sesame seed snack bars. For a junk food fix the classic gf travel options of original flavour Lays crisps and Snickers bars are sold!
          If you have the Google Translate app you can download Russian so it works offline and check ingredients lists in Russian that way.

          I hope this is helpful and shows it is defintely possible to visit Central Asia with Coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance. I know it probably sounds negative as it's essentially a list of things to avoid, but trust me your travels will totally make it worthwhile :)
          If anyone has other specific questions do feel free to PM me.
          2 x

          • Similar Topics
            Last post
          • vegan food in central asia.
            by hollyelizabeth » Sat Feb 06, 2016 9:15 am » in Itineraries & trip reports
            by steven View the latest post
            Mon Feb 08, 2016 6:56 am
          • Money in central asia - ATM?
            by leaveyanalone » Fri Mar 10, 2017 10:03 am » in Itineraries & trip reports
            by seysearles View the latest post
            Thu May 11, 2017 7:55 am
          • Car advice Central Asia
            by Toekan » Sat Mar 25, 2017 6:31 pm » in Roads, borders and security updates
            by eurasiaoverland View the latest post
            Tue May 02, 2017 3:55 pm
          • 2 weeks in Central Asia KG/UZ/TK
            by Yirina » Sun Jul 02, 2017 12:40 pm » in Itineraries & trip reports
            by steven View the latest post
            Mon Jul 03, 2017 1:18 am
          • Using Euros in Central Asia
            by tcarlyle » Fri Jul 10, 2015 8:48 am » in General
            by Tiredanddehydrated View the latest post
            Tue Jul 25, 2017 1:25 pm

          Return to “General”

          Who is online

          Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests