What is Mongolian Food?
Mongolian Food: Airag
Mongolian Food: Mongol Arkhi (Milk Liqueur)
Mongolian Food: Aaruul (dried curds)
Mongolian Food: Borts (Dried Meat)
Mongolian Food: Buuz (Mongolian dumplings)
Mongolian Food: Khuushuur (deep-fried flat dumplings)
Mongolian Food: Tsuivan Noodles
Mongolian Food: Khorkhog (Mongolian Barbeque)
Mongolian Food: Monglian Food: Boodog (scarier Mongolian barbeque)
Is There Mongolian Food for Vegetarians?
Before coming to Mongolia, Mongolian foo is at the forefront of most people’s minds.
What Mongolian food will I eat? What do Mongolians eat? Is it scary?
One of the most significant differences between Mongolia and many other countries is the nomadic animal husbandry. This is not any intensive animal farming. It is all done out on the steppe with animals allowed to roam relatively free.
Many Mongolians will tell you that this enables the livestock to graze hundreds of medicinal plants, thus improving the healthiness of the animal and the flavor of the meat.
Whether this is true or not for meat-eaters, Mongolian food is excellent.
Traditional meat and animal products were the primary sources of food for Mongolians.
Everything needed to survive would come from the animals: Meat used to be eaten seasonally depending on its category. The categories were sorted by how long it took the fat of each animal to cool.
Mongolians would also prepare meat as to its protein levels and the lifecycle of the animal.
Due to the Sub-zero temperatures, the body needs extra protein to keep warm.
Horse and mutton would be prepared and preferred over other meats at this time.
The weather improves although it can still be cold, although the lifestyle of the animal comes into play. As springtime, it the period of birth and young it was traditionally forbidden to slaughter animals at this time.
Preserved meats such as jerky (borts) and sausage would be consumed more in the springtime.
This period would be a time for less meat and more dairy products. Milk, yoghurt, airag, and other dairy products would be preferred at this time.
Mongolians would also add barley into their diet, mixing it with milk or water.
Life as a nomad would be spent living off the land, looking after the family, and surviving from one year to the next.
To do this, care and careful preparation are a must.
The animals and their products would have to be prepared and looked after to make sure that there was enough food to last the winter.
Airag is a traditional Mongolian drink made in the countryside during summertime. Traditionally, Airag is produced using horse milk, allowing it to ferment over two-three days.
The horse milk is poured into a leather bag/ pouch. It should be churned around 2000 -3000 times.
The bag will be hung at the entrance of the Ger.
As visitors arrive and leave, it’s polite that they will also give it a few mixes.
Fermentation triggered by the presence of lactic acid bacteria and yeast stirring makes sure that all parts of the milk mixture equally fermented.
Traditionally, Airag is given to visitors. Some Mongolians are able to drink 2-3 litres in a single sitting.
Airag is common during the Naadam festival, weddings, Mongolian new year, and other celebrations.
The consumption of airag can also be quite ritualistic when drinking.
You should avoid spilling it, or spitting and never tip outside of the Ger (home).
The winners of wrestling and horse racing events are also commonly given a bowl of this national drink.
Airag has a sour taste; it is a little odd at first but becomes quite agreeable after a while. The taste of Airag tends to vary from area to area central Mongolia, in my opinion, has some of the best.
There is an alcohol content to Airag, it can never be guaranteed but could be from 2-7%. Also, if a person has never drunk Airag or had a period of not drinking, care should be taken as it may have a laxative effect.
Mongol Arkhi is made from either Yak or cow milk.
The fermentation processed is carried out over a stove.
The double Wok like device used in this process looks as though it has a wok at the bottom and top of a wooden barrel.
Coldwater placed at the top is used to cool the milk as its heated from the bottom. As the milk boils the steam given of condenses when it touches the cold lid. The liquid collected due to the convex shape of the barrel top leading it to drip down into a bowl at the centre.
The highest quality liquor is said to come from the first part of the process as the water at the top is replaced 2-3 times.
Mongol Arkhi is a transparent beverage looking much like vodka.
It is traditionally the most potent drink available (until Russians introduced vodka), making it a very popular tiple.
I have tried this on several occasions with varying tastes; some have been awful with a robust flavour of mutton or goat.
On a few occasions, I have had a drink a little similar to vodka. Admittedly, it had a sharp kick, but was relatively enjoyable.
Listen to the locals. Every time I was that it was a good batch, it was!
When told to take care, I should have done!
The alcohol content of Mongol Arkhi usually is around 10-15 %, although, at times, it may be higher. It is a sly drink whos effects may hit you later. Local people are used to it and can drink a lot more. The poorer quality brew also gives a horrible hangover, not good if you’re on a horse in the morning.
Aaruul is produced when the milk from cattle, yaks, and camels is left to curdle.
The milk is boiled at first to make it a little thicker.
Once heated, it is then placed into a fine cloth bag and weighted with rocks, stones, or wood.
Within the bag, we are then left with the milk solids, which are like a glutinous mass. This mass is then shaped and left to dry under the warm Mongolian sun. Aaruul comes in many shapes sizes and flavours; it is to be found at the centre of the table in most Mongolian homes. Its appearance is a tough hard looking substance rather stone-like. People believe that chewing Aaruul is the reason many Mongolians have good teeth; it is undoubtedly a significant source of vital vitamins.
Aaruul should come with a warning as it can be sweet or sour strong in taste. It usually is always stone-like and can take quite a time to finish. Mongolians of all ages seem to love this snack while the author remains very wary.
As above, take care of your teeth, eating Aaruul can be similar to chewing stones. Always accept at least one piece upon being offered, Mongolians consider it rude not to try at least a small amount (you can still sneak it into your pocket once the attention has died down).
As in the introduction, the long, harsh winters in Mongolia mean that it is imperative to store food to survive.
Aside from the Curds, meat will be the staple food source; it is often said an average family will consume one cow and around eight sheep.
The production of borts is quite simple.
The meat will be sliced into long strips tied together with string then hung under the Ger roof.
As the air circulates, these strips dry and shrinks in size, becoming very hard. Once dry, the jerky will then be broken down very small, some times almost to a powder form.
Borts can act as a fresh meat substitute in most Mongolian dishes, although most commonly used in soups or teas.
Again, with many things in Mongolia the taste of Borts can vary, I tend to find it a little sawdusty and not always to my liking. We do have it quite a bit added to boiled soup rice soup; I find it ok but a little bland.
Nothing too much to report here.
Buuz is one of the most common dishes any visitor will come across when visiting Mongolia.
Buuz are a meat-filled dough. The dough is made solely from flour and water, minced mutton being the most popular filling.
The dumplings are cooked under steam, and they usually have a little opening at the top.
They traditionally would have been mostly meat, but onions and garlic are frequent additions today. There are slightly different styles of dumpling preparation; most still use mutton, although beef is also proving popular these days. The most common time of year and great for dumpling connoisseurs is Mongolian new year, as these little balls of meat will be eaten almost every day for a week.
For me, I am honestly dumpling’ ed out after spending so many years in Mongolia I do not have to eat anymore. However, I do still come across some homemade choices that make me almost reconsider. For me, I do not find the minced beef fillings to be too bad as long as the meat is not too fatty.
Do take care as Buuz can be served at volcanic temperatures. If you’re after a light snack, also watch how many you eat as many Mongolian families will keep you filled up until you can not possibly eat any more.
I personally always check the filling as some of the mutton can have an overwhelming taste - almost enough to take your breath away.
Very similar to Buuz, although the cooking method and style are a little different.
Khuushuur comes in flat dough pockets and is traditionally deep-fried. There are various sizes from small around the size of two fingers up to a little larger than an adult hand.
For me, these are one of my favorites here in Mongolia; they remind me a little of a pasty and are perfect for eating on a long journey. They are best immediately after cooking, especially if a bit crispy.
Heat can again be a problem, especially take care as some will contain piping hot soup, which can take longer to cool. Again beware of the dense mutton flavors preferred by some locals.
Noodles simply made with flour water and oil, prepared with White cabbage, carrots, onion, garlic, and of course, mutton.
These can be quickly fried or served as a stew. For some, beef can again be used instead of sheep.
Another favorite of mine. Simple, yet filling and tasty. A perfect compliment for me is to add some Thai chili sauce.
I tend to like all variations on this dish, although my absolute favorites are the tasty home-cooked ones.
Tsuivan is also a good option if you’re traveling Mongolia on a budget as restaurants serve mountainous portions at low prices.
No real advice, do watch the meat at times as it can be quite fatty.
Khorkhog is referred to by locals as a real Mongolian barbecue.
For many, it is a staple dish across the country.
Prepared with mutton cooked inside a large pot that contains burning rocks heated in an open fire, with vegetables such as carrots and potatoes added to make a stew.
The cooking process can take several hours, but the flavors within become perfectly blended.
When completed, the way to eat is to get those hands in using fingers. Some Mongolians advice is juggling the hot stones before eating as a way to help circulation.
A heavy dish best eaten in the evening. When khorkhog is given the time to cook, it is a perfect dish; the meat should be tender and easy to come off the bone, the vegetables an ideal accompaniment.
The stones after cooking, are scorching and could cause serious injuries!
The simplest explanation is marmot or goat, cooked with hot stones in the stomach.
Similar in a way to the khorkhog (as above), although the hot stones are placed directly into the animal. The animal is first cleaned the skin removed to aid in this.
After cleaning, the animal is then put back into its skin, which acts as a kind of sack, add vegetables for flavor. Burning the outer fur off these days a blow tourch works best. Hot rounded rocks are to be placed into the stomach cavity as well as the other areas. Small holes should aslo be made in the skin to allow the pressure to escape as the meal cooks from the inside out.
Avoid if you’re a little squmish. I have only tried it twice once with goat and once with a marmot. I did find it a bit odd at first and a little out of my confort zone.
I didn’t mind the taste of the goat, although it was a bit too strong for me overall.
The marmot on the overhand I had never tried before and found the meat quite sweet and very tasty. I would eat again.
Hot rocks are again a menace here. Do make sure the cook as made holes into the skin of the animal as they can explode.
And as above, not a meal for the faint-hearted.
Mongolia can be a little difficult for vegetarians, although, with a good chef, this need not be a problem.
Some Mongolian meals can also be adapted to a vegan or vegetarian diet.
When in the capital Ulaanbaatar there are also some excellent restaurants offering vegetarian options as well as a few vegetarian-only options.
There are many more meals that constitute Mongolia food. We will add to these over time.
When on tour into Mongolia, it is worth checking with your travel company as when visiting local Mongolian families, they may well just prepare you Buuz every day.
Buuz is easy to make and cook, and amongst Mongolians assumed that is all we can stomach.
I would recommend a travel company that offers a variety; we work with a local partner who sends a Mongolian chief on tour this way, we can have a varied Mongolian meal toned down when it need be.