Food and diet are an integral part of the Mongolian culture, which
takes its origin from Huns’ time. The stories about Mongolian
traditional cuisine probably will dispel one’s perception that “Nomadic
people in Mongolia eat only meat after de-sectioning a carcass meat to
bone ratio and boiling it.”
Anyone will agree that cuisine or dish of any nation has close relation to the richness of their culture, nature and geography and practice of earning for living. Mongolian traditional cuisine has been enriched with cooking tradition of many other nations which is tracked with history of the nation 800 years ago, the time of the conquest. As a result of the conquest, which led to rapid culture exchange and integration of nations Mongolia was quick to embrace cuisines from other parts of the world.
That is why today Mongolia is a country with a rich cuisine which combines and presents cuisine of many other nations.
Today, in Ulaanbaatar one can easily find a place to eat cuisine of any nation, since 60 restaurants of over 20 countries operate in Ulaanbaatar.
Mongolians have developed many different strict techniques of preparing and cooking food. Let me share with you an interesting story about the techniques of slaughtering an animal. Uguudei, one of the ChinggisKhaan’s sons ordered to slaughter an animal by slitting the belly and yanking the vena cava. Since then Mongolians use this technique to have the most nourishing and nutritious meat. Mongolians do not eat meat all year around. Traditionally, for their choice of food Mongolians used to take into the consideration what season and how healthy was the food for that particular time. In the severe winter, they regularly consume highly nutritious reserved meat rich with protein and fat to allow them to keep their warmth and stay strong. However, during the harsh spring, they do not slaughter an animal for food but prefer to consume borts (dried meat), hyaramtsag (frozen in the casing blood and other by products), uuts (preserved meat) and shuuz (preserved meat in its own sauce) and prepare their stomach for the warm summer time. In the summer, they do not eat meat at all, often consume dairy products only. When the weather cools down with the start of the autumn, ripened wild berries, vegetables and grain and wheat come to the menu.
This time I would like to bring you to the traditional cooking of Mongolia. The restaurant “Modern Nomads” shares their menu with you.
Like Americans love Coca Cola, and Russians kvass, the most favorite drink of Mongolian people is airag, self-fermented Mare’s milk, which is considered to be cream of all food and drink. This is a whole milk curdled to beverage or custard-like consistency by lactic-acid-producing microorganism. Best time for airag fermenting is the autumn time, not only because of the warmth but also due to the grass and herbs the animal eat. One who tried airag in autumn time will remember the taste-refreshing, but a bit sour. It can not be confused with the milk we add into a tea. Mongolians consume the tea, which was described by Marco Polo, a great traveler, that “he felt this drink was I ike an ordinary drink but left him filled as if he had eaten a light, but nutritious meal” When you come to any family, the first thing you are offered is a tea. Mongolians make different types of drinks with milk, varying in milk content in it, such as hyaram (boiled water with a small portion of milk to make it look not creamy but milky), tsiidem (boiled water with even smaller amount of milk to make it look watery, rather than milky).
Let us now move to the menu. It should be pointed that the recent years restaurants have stopped to offer fat dish as the customers have become conscious about the harmful ness of an excess fat and are paying attention to cook daily traditional menu with lessfat.
1.Huushuur: (Cornish pasties-like, deep fried flat dumpling stuffed with meat) with garnish: Russia and China are two big neigh bors.withwhichthe country had great extent of exchange and some influence on our culture. It is said thatthis dish originates from China, but it is known that this stuffed meat had been popular in Mongolia from very early time. Minced or chopped meat is seasoned with onion, other spices or flavoring ingredients. If one finds huushuur with garnish in the menu, you can have 4-5 hot huushuur arranged with some salad or starters. The meat produces a lot of juice, as being stewed.
Recipe: Divide the pastry into small round pieces and roll them in an appropriate thickness. Before this, minced meat is seasoned. Then place a thin layer of the prepared meat on the one half of the pastry, be careful not to have too much filling which would cause the pastry to burst during the cooking process. Then fold the other ha If over the filling and squeeze the edges firmly together. Start from the right side using first finger and thumb turn the edge over to form a crimp. Repeat with the remaining pasties. While you prepare huushuur put on a frying pan with some cooking oil, heat it until the temperature raises enough to fry the huushuur. Huushuur is fried for 5-10 minutes depending on the temperature. Be careful not to heat the oil too much, then the meat cannot be cooked enough although the pastry is burnt.
2.Milk tea with dumplings: It is one of the popular dish people perceive as a good way of helping one to recover from a fatigue. Dumplings specially prepared for this cooking makes the tea with milk more tasty. If the tea is made to help one to revive strength, usually mutton is minced for dumplings and they put 7 mutton dumplings into the tea, while tea is getting ready. Each region or ethnic group has their own specific recipe for this dish; I will share with you the popular recipe.
Recipe: Weak green tea is made, and then fresh milk is added. The meat minced. Then pastry is prepared, divided into much smaller rolls than huushuur and flattened as described above for making huushuur, but much smaller, be careful not to make it too big or too thin. Small amount of meat is placed on the flattened pastry on the one half, fold the other half of pastry over the filling and squeeze the edges firmly together.
3.Buuz: A kind of Mongolian ravioli steam cooked is a traditional dish offered in big plates to the guests during the festive time. Buuz is cooked for special occasions and also belongs to stew dish menu. Buuz have different names depending on their size.
Recipe: Mincing is made manually, and seasoned. Seasoned meat is placed in the pastry prepared as the same as for dumplings and edge of the pastry is pinched to make a ball-like shape. Then they are put in the steam saucepan for 15-25 minutes, depending on the size and whether they were frozen or not. The person making the buuz has to work a lot being careful to make them the same shape and look fine. As a stew some juice is produced inside the pastry. Nourishing.
4.Horhog and Boodog: it is known from the history that the stew was one of the main technique of cooking of nomadic Mongolian people. Pans and saucepan or pots were introduced only 200 years ago. Before this invention, people cooked the meat using animals’ own skin as a cooking utensil. Meat was taken out of the skin through only opening in the head of the animal, and then the skin was used for the delicious meal with specific technique called boodog, which is offered to the respectable guests. Nobody teaches how to do it, but Mongolians can cook it.
5 most consumed traditional drinks of Mongolia
Travelling is going to discover another culture and different ways of life. With this in mind, tasting the culinary specialities of a country is a real part of the travel. While travellers often worry about food, they forget drinks. Yet, Mongolians have many specialities the traveller can taste all along his/her stay. This is a little list.
The airag, or fermented mare milk, is certainly the drink that best symbolizes Mongolia. If you Airag is made from fermented mare milk mixed with ferment from the year before in a big cow skin bag (khökhüür) and then beaten. This gives an acid-taste drink, very refreshing and very little alcoholic (about 2 to 3% alcohol). Airag is prepared during all June. The new airag must be ready for Naadam, because Mongolians will drink it in great quantities. If you have the good luck to discover the country during summer, you’ll have many opportunities to taste this special beverage. When you’ll be proposed some, you’ll have to be polite and take it with your right hand,the left hand holding your right elbow, wrist, or hand. Then you’ll put the cup to your mouth. If you don’t like it, you can just tell it and give the cup back to the host.
The Suuteitsai or tea with milk is the most consumed drink of Mongolia and you will be proposed some each time you’ll visit a Mongolian family. Once in the yurt, it’s the first thing you’ll be proposed, and you’ll have to accept the cup with your right hand (in the same way as for airag) and put it to your mouth before putting it on the table.
The tea with milk is made with cow milk mixed with water and black tea leaves. It’s lightly salted and sometimes serves as base for a soup, for example banshtaitsai, tea with raviolis inside.
The Arkhi or milk vodka is the Mongolian traditional vodka. It’s distiled with fermented tarag (cow milk yogurt). The acider the yugurt is, the higher the alcohol range will be, about 15 to 20%. All nomads families have their own still. This alcohol is generally made in summer but it gets drunk all along the year. Monglians like to drink it when it’s still hot, straightaway after distillation. As for airag, you’ll have to take the glass you’ll be proposed, with your right hand, and at least put it to your mouth.
Vodka. It’s difficult to talk about the most consumed drinks of Mongolia without evocating vodka. Vodka is not a traditional drink, since it has been imported by Russians during the communist period, but it is today the most consumed drink of the country. Each Mongolian drink about two bottles per month, and the country has hundreds of distilleries. The Mongolian vodka is made with wheat and there are many breands. Most famous are Black Chinggis, Gold Chinggis, Bolor, Soyombo, or KharSuvd. The alcohol level is about 36%. The acceptance ritual of vodka is the same as for airag or arkhi. Let’s tell that each time a family will invite you, there will traditionally be three services of alcohol. With a single glass, the host will serve each guest one after the other, beginning with the oldest one. The guest will at least put the glass to his/her mouth, then give it back to the host, and the latter will fill it again, adding just a symbolic drop if you did not drink anything, and give ot to the following guest.
You’ll certainly note that very often, instead of putting the glass to their mouth, Mongolians only soap their right ring-finger in vodka, then three times above their head, make offerings of alcohol to spirits by making a sort of flick with their thumb and ring-finger.
The Chatsarganiishuus or sea-buckthorn juice is the favorite juice of Mongolians, whether it be cold or hot; it can be considered as the “orange gold” of Mongolia.
Mongolians make boil this berry in water and consume great quantities in juice or tea.This berry is the piece of fruit the richest in vitamin C (eight times more than a kiwi). It naturally grows in the province of Uvs, West Mongolia.
Some industrial productions can be found in Ulan Bator, this berry being also used in many cosmetics. Its fragrance can sometimes displease but the taste is really very interesting. The concentrated juices that we sometimes find in shops often have a too strong taste and can be diluted with water.
Restaurant in Ulan Bator
During these last few months, the supply regarding restaurant industry quickly grew in Ulan Bator. Nowadays, we can find excellent gourmet restaurants and specialities from the whole world: Italian, Indian, Mexican, Japanese, Lebanese and of course Korean. Unfortunately, some chains like KFC or Pizza Hut appeared too.