MONGOLIAN FOOD

MONGOLIAN FOOD

Food found in Mongolia maintains links to country’s nomadic traditions and also is influenced by food from Russia, China and other Central Asian countries. The staples of the Mongolian diet are boiled mutton, Tibetan-style dumplings, and tea mixed with sheep, cow, camel or horse milk. Much of the food is quite heavy or greasy. Cholesterol is not a worry in Mongolia and vegetables and fruits are in relatively short supply. If you ask why, Mongolians often say, “Meat is for men and grass for animals."

Food expert Cathy Ang wrote: Dairy products are important dietary items for Mongolians. “They refer to dairy products as white foods and meat products or animal flesh as red foods. Raw materials for white foods include milk from cows, horses, sheep, goats, camels, and reindeer; with horse milk considered having the highest of nutrients. Cow's milk is quite popular, considered healthy, too, and used for a variety of products.” [Source:Cathy Ang, Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods, Spring Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(1) page(s): 7 and 8. Cathy Ang (formerly Yung-kang Wang) is a research chemist working for the Food and Drug Administration in Jefferson, Arkansas.]

Mutton is fatty and gives off, in view of some outsiders, a nauseating smell that permeates everything even the money. In Riding the Iron Rooster, Paul Theroux wrote: "Mutton was in the air. If there had been a menu, mutton would have been on it. It was served at every meal: mutton and potatoes—grisly mutton and cold potatoes. The Mongolians had a way of making food inedible and disgusting, and they could transform the most inoffensive meal into garbage, by serving it cold, sprinkling it with black carrots, or garnishing it with a goat ear."

In the summer milk products rule. In the winter, dried meat has traditionally been the staple. In addition to mutton, all parts of the sheep, including the heart, intestines, kidneys, eyeballs, brains, head and tail, are eaten. The sheep’s head is regarded as a delicacy. Chicken and pork are not eaten much. Mongolians generally don’t eat horse meat (Kazakhs eat horse sausage though) but eat beef and goat meat. Horse jerky is marketed as a pet food. Camel meat is eaten in some places. Russian dishes such Russian Salisbury steak continue to endure in hotel restaurants.

Mongolians have traditionally not eaten bread, vegetables or fruit but most eat these things now. Some Mongols still refuse to eat vegetables “for health reasons”. Bread and pastries were adopted from the Russians and incorporated into their own cooking dishes made with milk and flour, meat and flour grilled with sour cream and as steamed meat pies made with sweet dough.

Mongolian Eating Habits

Cathy Ang wrote: “Lots of livestock is raised in Mongolia. This includes but is not limited to wild horse, sheep, goat, cow, and camel. Though all of these animals are available, Mongolians do not eat much beef, pork or horse meat. The most popular meats consumed are goat and sheep. Lamb is barbecued whole or is grilled or boiled in smaller pieces. Camel used to be more popular, but with all too few of them now, some regions forbid eating them. No matter the meat, Mongolians roast, grill, smoke, and dry them all and they adore eating them. [Source:Cathy Ang, Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods, Spring Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(1) page(s): 7 and 8]

Mutton, soup and dumplings have traditionally been served at all meals: breakfast, lunch and dinner. A meal without them is regarded as incomplete. Mongolians start their day with a light breakfast between 7:30am and 8:30am. Lunch is served between 1:00pm and 2:00pm and usually consists of mutton, noodle soup or dumplings. Meals on Sunday tend to be bigger and have more dishes. Dinner is usually served between 6:30pm and 8:00pm, and typically revolve around some kind of mutton dish. ▪ A standard meal on a train is borscht, rice and a slice of overcooked beef or stuffed peppers, boiled potatoes, a hard slab of meat, zucchini, sweet rolls and tea. A typical meal in a ger camp includes of cabbage salad, noodle soup, meat stew, rice , biscuits and beer. Picnic meals out on the steppe include corn salad, noodle soup, beef and rice and orange desert. Fresh milk and yoghurt is often purchased from herds in the area.

Mongolian Diet

The Mongolians' nomadic way of life determined their diet, which traditionally consisted mainly of the meat, milk and other dairy products provided by the livestock which they tended. This included mutton, beef and goat, as well as milk and other dairy products from cattle and goats. Mongolians have traditionally not eaten bread, vegetables or fruit but most eat these things now. Some Mongols still refuse to eat vegetables “for health reasons”. But more have become so far removed from their traditional nomad diet, they eat the same foods as Chinese. Bread is often prepared in special ovens.

According to Chinese government: “The traditional diet of Mongol consists mainly of milk and meat, with grain taking the role of subsidiary food. With the improvement of life condition, the structure of diet is also changed correspondingly--- the proportion of cereal food and vegetable was much increased. Milk, meat and cereal food shape a triangular balance of power in the pasturing area. Half-farming-and-half-pasturing area mainly rely on cereal food with meat and milk as subsidiary. However, in the pasturing area, meat and milk possess a much larger proportion. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

According to Chinatravel.com: Today, the diet of the Mongolians has been expanded to include vegetables as well as pasta and rice, the former in recognition of the sad fact that the traditional Mongolian diet often leads to struma, or an abnormally enlarged thyroid gland leading to a "swollen" neck, a medical condition caused by the lack of iodine in one's diet, and the latter in order to provide a more carbohydrate-rich diet and perhaps to supplement meat, which is not always as plentiful as one might wish. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]

Mongolia: The World’s Least Vegetarian-Friendly Country?

In 2012, The Economist reported: “A glance at Mongolia’s agricultural-output tables provides a vivid sense of what a difficult place it can be for vegetarians. Three kinds of meat top the chart—mutton, beef and goat. Potatoes make a decent showing, above camel meat but below horse meat. Carrots, cabbage and onions all feature, but only as statistical afterthoughts. The title of a discussion thread on one internet forum summed it up aptly: “Mongolia: the least vegan place in the world?” [Source: The Economist, December 1, 2012 /=\]

“But change is afoot. Though the capital, Ulaanbaatar, does not yet rival hipster cities in Europe or America as a vegetarian mecca, a meatless movement is beginning to stir. On his first visit, in 2005, your (vegetarian) correspondent could find a decent feed only at a mediocre Indian curry house. Today there are dozens of vegetarian restaurants to choose from./=\

“Though Mongolia is predominantly Buddhist, its brand of the creed—like Tibet’s—does not proscribe meat. The country’s population of about 3m is outnumbered by livestock by roughly 12 to one. Nomadic herding has long been at the core of Mongolia’s culture and economy, with meat and dairy products the mainstay of the national diet. Most of the vegetables consumed in Mongolia are imported from China. /=\

“In restaurants a request for meatless fare still generally causes quizzical bemusement. But not at Loving Hut, a worldwide vegan chain with several outlets in Ulaanbaatar. The patrons are mostly local, young and English-speaking, though not all are vegetarians. The nascent trend for eschewing meat is part of Mongolia’s broader shift towards a more urbanised, international society.” In November 2012, “the UB Post, a Mongolian newspaper, estimated there were 2,500 vegans in the country. Vegetarians may number above 30,000, according to other reports. Professor Oyuntsetseg of the Mongolian University of Science and Technology told the UB Post that strokes and cancers of the stomach and liver are leading causes of death among Mongolians, and that a vegetarian diet would help reduce the risk. Nevertheless, the brave diners at Loving Hut are bucking strong cultural currents with their choice of food. It may be some time before tofu and alfalfa sprouts rival mutton and beef on those agricultural-output tables.” /=\

Mongolian Eating Customs

Mongolians don’t eat with chopsticks. They generally use a spoon, fork or knife or just their hands. Boiled meat is passed around in a large communal bowl with a knife. People slice off a piece of meat. The choices pieces are the ones with the most fat.

After entering a ger guests are offered tea with milk and salt in a bowl, and a plate with various cheeses and/or bread or cookies. Guests accept what is offered to them with their right hand, with the left hand offering support at the elbow; pick up things with an open hand and a palm facing upwards; and hold their tea bowl at the bottom rather than the top. Visitors are expect to take at least one small piece or a sip of what is offered to them. To do otherwise is considered very rude. At the same time don’t gobble down everything in sight. An empty bowl or an empty plate is an invitation for more. If you don’t want more simple leave a little in your bowl or plate. Kazakhs indicate they don’t want more by placing a hand over their bowl or plate.

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p> "Stewed meat taken by hands" is a traditional way for Mongolian people to eat meat. The way of making stewed meat is: first, disembowel a fleshy and dedicate sheep, peel off the skin and remove the internal organs as well as the head and ungues. Then, cut the whole sheep into several large pieces and put the meat into plain boiled water to stew for a while. While the water is boiling and the meat is thoroughly cooked, take the meat out and serve on the desk with placing it in big plates. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

Mongolian Dishes

Mongolian Dishes include mutton soup, mutton stew, roast mutton, deep-fried mutton, mutton noodle soup, mutton pancake, mutton with rice, buuz (steamed mutton dumplings), bansh (smaller dumplings often served in soup), khuurshuur (deep fried dough stuffed with muttons), borts (dried meat), borts soup, bortsog (small hard wheat pastries), guriltai shoil (mutton noodle soup), and boiled beef.

Horhog is a national delicacy and fixture of Mongolian feasts. Also known as a Mongolian stone roast barbecue, it is goat stuffed with heated rocks that cook it from within. It is usually served with bread of doughy dumplings. When beef is served the choicest pieces are the ones with the most fat. Soups tend be more like stews and are often very filling. On the steppe nomads often eat whole goat or marmot cooked with hot rocks places in the carcass and blow torch heating it from the outside.

Mongolian hotpot—meat, noodles and variety of vegetables and cooked in a hot pot—is associated more with China and Inner Mongolia than with Mongolia. Mongolian barbecues found on the west coast of the United States—which usually consists of meat, poultry and vegetables picked by the customer and then cooked on a big grill—are not found in Mongolia. Shish kebab is sometimes called Mongolian barbecue in Mongolia.

A wide variety of milk products from sheep, cows, goats, horses and camels are available. These include urum (heavy dry, clotted cream often eaten with moist creamy curd), ural (hard yellow cheeses made from camel, cow, goat or sheep milk), tarrag (a kind of yoghurt), cottage cheese and curd (hard, salty dried balls). In the winter Mongolians eat mostly boiled mutton, dried meat and fat.

Snacks and Street Food include Russian chocolate, which is dark and slightly bitter. Some chocolate bars have pictures of Leonard o Dicaprio and the word “Titanic” written in Cyrillic on them. Some American and European candies and cookies are available in shops and kiosks.

Mongolian Meat Dishes

Mongolians have traditionally been used to eating meat everyday. If they went a few days without meat they got grumpy and out of sorts. After stuffing themselves with mutton they were happy again. On occasion horse meat was eaten, but this was generally only at religious ceremonies and during festivals, as the horse enjoys a near-sacred status among the Mongols. As a a people of the steppe they traditionally roast meat over an open fire — or boil it if it is less tender A goat or a lamb might be roasted whole, or in sections, such as a leg of lamb.

"Stewed meat taken by hands" is a traditional way for Mongolian people to eat meat. To make it: 1) disembowel a sheep, peel off the skin and remove the internal organs as well as the head and feet. 2) Then, cut the whole sheep into several large pieces and put the meat into plain boiled water to stew for a while. 3) After boiling for a while and the meat is thoroughly cooked, take the meat out and serve on table on big plates. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]

Mongolian Hot Pot is a traditional winter dish eaten throughout China northern China—by Mongolians and non-Mongolians alike—consisting of frozen bean curd, bean flour noodles, beef and mutton cooked with other ingredients and spices in a hot pot in boiling oil and broth. It is not much a Mongolian dish as it a Chinese adaption of one. In hot pot restaurants, customers often cook the ingredients in their own individual pots or a pot eaten collectively by a group that is heated by a burner under the table. When the ingredients are ready you pluck them out of the pot with your chopsticks and dip them in a tasty sauce and pop them into your mouth. Hot pot was created by nomads on the steppes of Mongolia. A Mongolian barbecue consists of meat, poultry and vegetables picked by the customer and then cooked on a big grill. It is more of an American invention.

Some Mongolians regard it as a taboo to eat fish. This is a Tibetan custom. Eating fish is as abhorrent to Tibetans as eating pork is to Muslims and eating beef is to Hindus. Tibetan don't eat fish for several reasons. 1) fish sometimes eat the bodies of the dead ("water burial”---in which a body is dumped in a lake where fish can eat it---is one of the five ways of disposing of dead bodies). 2) water is considered sacred (fishing disturbs the water); and 3) fish don't have tongues, and hence they can't gossip. Tibetan detest gossip and they reward the fish for keeping their mouths shut by not eating them.

Types of Mongolia White Food

Food expert Cathy Ang wrote: 1) “Liquid butter: This can be made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats and camels. To make it, fresh milk is poured into an earthen jar or a wooden barrel. This stands at sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, our room temperature, for six to eight hours. The milk, then partially coagulated, becomes light yellow and forms a thick, semi-solid layer with about two or three portions of liquid butter to ten portions of milk. The liquid butter is served with sugar and fried millet, used in vegetables or tea, and as a spread on bread. [Source:Cathy Ang, Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods, Spring Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(1) page(s): 7 and 8, Cathy Ang (formerly Yung-kang Wang) is a research chemist working for the Food and Drug Administration in Jefferson, Arkansas. ^=^]

2)“White butter: There are two ways to make white butter. One is to put the liquid butter into a cheese cloth sack made of a course cloth. This is hung until all the liquid. Sometimes they stir it, and as they do the liquid butter separates from the solids. Another way is to stir sour, yeast fermented milk into it to separate the white butter from the liquid. This does need stirring for what they say is: several thousands times. ^=^

3) “Yellow butter: This is made from white butter. Either fresh or sour, white butter is heated in a pot until the yellow butter-oil is melted. This is separated from the white butter cream. Milk from cows, sheep, goats and camels can be used for white as well as for yellow butter. It is interesting to note that Mongolian people often take a bowl of yellow butter with them before starting on a long journey. They use it then or at home served with pan fried millet and pancakes. ^=^

4) “Milk tofu: This food item can be made from either raw or cooked milk. To make raw milk tofu, Mongolians put milk in a warm area until it ferments. A ladle is used to stir it occasionally until coagulated. It forms a tofu-like texture. They then transfer the contents to a mold or a sack to drain off the liquid and then they let it air dry. To make cooked milk tofu, the liquid from making the white butter or the liquid from making milk film (see below) is fermented, coagulated, and filtered through a cheesecloth sack. The coagulated milk is heated while stirring it until it becomes thick. It is then placed in a cloth sack pressing the yellow liquid out. The remaining solids are placed in a wooden mold, square or rectangular shaped, and left to air dry. The Mongolians consider the best milk tofu to be white. This product is often air-dried for storage; that prevents molding. Dried milk tofu is used for milk tea; it is also used by shepherds and long distance travelers. ^=^

5) “Milk film is also known as milk leather. To make this milk product, people heat fresh milk in a pot at low temperatures stirring until it foams. Then they cool it and a layer of cream coagulates on top. This layer is removed as a film or skin and air-dried in a well ventilated place. The process is similar to how the Han people make bean curd sticks. ^=^

6) “Cheese: After removal of yellow butter, the remaining buttermilk is left to ferment in a warm place until the milk is coagulated as chunks and pieces resembling cottage cheese. Milk pie: After the above cheese gets sour, sugar and flour are added and shaped. At this point, the cheese is baked. Milk pie is used as a dessert.” ^=^

In a review of Andrew Zimmern's take on Mongolian food, Jillian Madison wrote in Serious Eats: “Andrew traveled south to the Gobi desert to experience the life of the traveling nomads. Within moments of his arrival, his friendly hosts presented him with fermented mare's milk, freshly made cheese, and ridiculously hard pieces of milk curds that had been fried in their own fat. Andrew said they "looked like brown rocks" and "tasted like scorched milk." [Source: Jillian Madison, Serious Eats, May 11, 2010]

Mongolia Grain Dishes

Cathy Ang wrote: “Millet: This is one of the most important grain products that Mongolians eat. Millet can be cooked with water as you would cook rice or cooked with even higher proportions of water than used when making rice congee. However, the most unique Mongolian grain food is millet pan-fried. Made this way, pan-fried millet is used as ready-to-serve cereal. It is also a common practice for Mongolians to add pan-fried millet to their milk tea, as already indicated. [Source:Cathy Ang, Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods, Spring Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(1) page(s): 7 and 8 ^=^]

“Fried flour: Mongolians eat buckwheat, wheat, oats, and millet. They fry the flour of any of these at low temperatures adding sugar to one or another of them. The fried flour is used as a dry staple. Millet and flour cookies: To make their cookie batter, fried millet and fried flour are mixed together, sugar, yellow butter, and milk added. The cookies are formed by hand and then baked. ^=^

“Fried pie: To make this typical Mongolian food one mixes flour, yellow butter, egg, and sugar then forms them into a pie shaped pancake and pan-fries them. Steamed layer bread: This is made with the same batter as the fried pie but instead steamed until done and not fried. ^=^

Exotic Nomad Foods

Nomads boil and eat the lungs, heart, stomach, liver and intestines of the animals they slaughter. Their favorite food is often pieces of pure fat. Big events are celebrated with a feast featuring a sheep slaughtered by slitting its stomach and reaching inside elbow-deep and squeezing the artery between the heart and brain. Nomads have traditionally eaten the intestines and drank the blood of freshly slaughtered animals. The head and eyeballs are considered special treats given to guests. A sheep bladder filled with blood, tied at the ends and boiled is considered a real delicacy.

Guests are often offered a stew made with animal testicles. On Ewan MacGregor’s motorcycle trip through Mongolia in 2004 he and his riding buddies were offered stew with over 200 testicles from horses, cattle and mostly sheep. They were able to eat the first one but had difficulty downing the others. Stewed camel foot is regarded as a delicacy in some places.

In a review of Andrew Zimmern's take on Mongolian food, Jillian Madison wrote in Serious Eats: “From dump trucks filled with animal carcasses outside the capital city of Ulaanbaatar to intestine-wrapped goat organs in the Gobi desert... Zimmern's trip to Mongolia was filled with sights that made me squirm in my seat (and seriously consider vegetarianism!)...[Source: Jillian Madison, Serious Eats, May 11, 2010 ==]

“STOMACH BUTTER: At first glance, I thought I was staring at a delicious twice-baked potato. My delight quickly turned to horror when Andrew's translator told us it was, in fact, BUTTER LEFT TO INTENTIONALLY ROT INSIDE A COW'S STOMACH. The smell alone was so off-putting that Andrew could only stomach the tiniest lick of it. "Imagine the most violently rotten food you've ever smelled, and double it," he said. "That's really unpleasant." ==

“GOAT COOKED FROM THE INSIDE OUT: The nomads planned a special lunch in Andrew's honor: a goat feast, something which they typically only get to enjoy once every few years. They quickly dispatched a goat, removed its organs and bones, and stuffed the carcass with innards and hot rocks so the animal would cook from the inside out. While it was cooking, they scorched the external hair off with a blowtorch. First, Andrew tasted "the soup," which was really just a gigantic bowl of animal fluids left over from the cooking process. "It tastes charred, like the outside of a burnt lamb chop," Andrew said. He then moved on to the meat, which he deemed "fatty and really nice" (which, ironically, sounds a lot like my high school boyfriend). ==

“A SMORGASBORD OF GOAT ORGANS: Finally, Andrew sampled goat organs that were wrapped in fat and tied up with intestines. And just when I thought he had gone an entire episode without saying something was "gamey," there it was: "The liver is very tinny; the intestines are a little gamey though. You know what you're eating when you eat those." Actually I don't, Andrew, but I'll take your word for it!” ==

Mongolia-Style Whole Sheep’s Head

On Zimmern's encounter with On Tolgoi, or boiled sheep’s head, Jillian Madison wrote in Serious Eats: “I understand a whole sheep's head is considered a prized delicacy in Mongolia, but back here in the States, the sight of that thing is enough to give me nightmares for the next three weeks. Those teeth are terrifying! Maybe it's just me, but I don't like my food to look like a "before" photo at an orthodontist's office. In all fairness, I must say that the circular slice of onion on its head was an especially nice touch, though. [Source: Jillian Madison, Serious Eats, May 11, 2010 ==]

“The sheep's head is placed in a pot with root vegetables and is simmered for hours, which supposedly makes the meat soft and very tender. Andrew said the tongue "melted in his mouth." No word if it melted in his hands. Andrew's translator explained that in Mongolia, the tradition is that one person has to eat BOTH of the eyeballs. Since this is television, they threw caution to the wind and each ate an eyeball. "That's a chewer's dish," Andrew exclaimed. Which somehow reminds me, I have a tradition, too, and it's called "avoid eating eyeballs unless there's a gun pointed at your head." ==

“Next, Andrew headed to an outdoor meat market to sample a lovely plate of head cheese. It's basically boiled and jellied sheep's head, with salt, vegetables, and leftover animal hair thrown in for good measure. Wow. And you thought granny's fruitcake was tough to get down! Andrew took one bite, but quickly dismissed the dish as being too "barnyard-y." He washed it down with a pickle before stumbling to the next tent to find.” ==

For a little more open-minded account of the same dish, Japanese reporter Seiichiro Takeuchi wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun, “A boiled sheep’s head was presented on a plate in an Ulaanbaatar restaurant. I hesitated to reach for it with my chopsticks as I was overwhelmed by the size of the head, which was about 20 centimeters in diameter. One of my Mongolian friends, who tired of my hesitation, started to very smartly peel meat off its scalp and cheek using a knife and a fork. I picked up a slice, dipped it in sauce and, as I chewed it, the rich taste of mutton filled my mouth. [Source: Seiichiro Takeuchi, Yomiuri Shimbun, September 26, 2013 ||||]

“Lamb and mutton are staples of the Mongolian diet and boiled sheep’s head is a traditional dish called “tolgoi” (head). After the head is boiled for about three hours, it is seasoned with salt. The meat around the eyes is especially soft and has a strong, rich taste. In Mongolia, it is customary to offer a sheep’s head to important guests. Today, boiled sheep’s head is served on special occasions, even in regular homes. At the Hamag Mongol restaurant in Ulaanbaatar, the dish is offered for 12,500 tugrik (about $10). According to Tsolmon, a restaurant employee, tolgoi is the most popular dish chosen by foreigners who want to know more about Mongolia.”

Restaurants in Mongolia

The best and most hygienic food is usually found at expensive hotel restaurants or restaurants that cater to foreign tourists. One-room family-owned restaurants and sidewalk stalls usually sell boiled mutton and dumplings and little else.

In the Soviet-era restaurants were considered to be grim places. The meals were terrible; the service was awful; and sometimes door attendants wouldn't give you a table unless you gave them a bribe. Sometimes they said they were closed or full when they weren't and the workers were often more interested in watching television than clearing the dishes from the tables. According to Lonely Planet: "Only in Mongolia could a restaurant be 'closed for lunch.'"

This kind of restaurants endured for a while in hotels in early Soviet era. In recent years lots of new restaurants have opened up. These sometimes offer a wide variety of food and have good service. Often the best food is home style dishes served at guest houses or ger camps. Most modern-style Mongolian restaurants offer Russian and European dishes.

In Ulaan Baatar you can get European, Chinese and Korean food. There are even some Japanese and Mexican food restaurants. Outside of Ulaan Baatar you’ll be luck to find a restaurant period. Mostly what you’ll find are canteens that sell mutton, soup and dumplings. In areas frequented by tourists, restaurant with tourist-friendly offerings have become more common place.

Restaurants usually allow smoking and the sale of liquor. Mongolians don’t eat with chopsticks. They generally use a spoon, fork or knife or just their hands. Menus are often superfluous at many ordinary restaurants, considering that generally they only have a choice of one or two meals. Some restaurants become bars with a lot of drinking and music in the evening. Menus with prices are generally not displayed outside restaurants.

Types of Restaurants

Eating places in Mongolia include 1) guanz, Mongolian-style canteens that sell mutton and noodle soup, generally for the equivalent of a few dollars; 2) Soviet-style canteens, communal lunch rooms, generally with cheap but awful food; 3) cafeterias with simple inexpensive meals that are served cafeteria style; 4) Western-style restaurants, generally only found in Ulaan Baatar and tourist areas; 5) hotel restaurants; and 6) ger camp restaurants.

Guanz often are places where men hang out and socialize. They are generally anywhere where there are enough people to support them. A ger located near a main road is a generally a guanz. Gaunz offer milk tea as food. Basic ones offer noodles and mutton and nothing else. Better ones offer buuz (steamed mutton dumplings), khuurshuur (deep fried dough stuffed with muttons) and noodles prepared in different ways.

Chinese, Western, Russian, Korean Middle Eastern, German, and American cuisine is available in Ulaan Baatar but American-style fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and KFC have not yet made it Mongolia.

Hotel restaurants still have a reputation of being overpriced and serving dreadful food and being little more than glorified guanz. Some have steak (a large mutton hamburger patty), “goulash” or “schnitzel,” served with rice or mashed potatoes and maybe some sorry -looking pickled vegetables. But they are better than they used to be. Some of the ones in Ulaan Baatar are pretty good. Often they have café offering snacks or meat turnovers or a buffet with cold meats, salads and breads. Some of the ger camps have buffet style meals. Most have a set menu.

In the past Mongolia experienced food shortages, but this no longer seems to be a problem. Ulaan Baatar has some relatively well-stocked supermarkets. In rural areas, even in towns and small cities, the selection is more limited. Stores generally have cookies, packages of noodles and soup, curd (small, salty balls of yoghurt), yoghurt, hard cheese, potatoes, Russian chocolate, rice, powdered and condensed milk and hard candy. It is often difficult to get fruit and vegetables outside Ulaan Baatar and the major towns. Bring dried fruits and nuts. Local markets sell things like potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, dried fruit, nuts, dried meat, slabs of butter, cheese, local honey, curd and kolbasa (salami-like sausage).

Mongolian Barbecue

Mongolian barbecue is a stir fried dish that was developed in Taiwanese restaurants in the 1970s. Meat and vegetables are cooked on large, round, solid iron griddles at temperatures of up to 300 degrees C (572 degrees F). Despite its name, the cuisine is not Mongolian, and is only very loosely related to barbecue. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Although Mongolian barbecue first appeared in Taipei in 1951, the stir-frying of meats on a large, open surface is supposed to evoke Mongolian foods and Mongolian traditions. The preparation can also derive from Japanese-style teppanyaki, which was popular in Taiwan at the time. The very first Mongolian Barbecue restaurant (Genghis Khan Mongolian BBQ) was opened in 1976, and was located in downtown Taipei, Taiwan. As Mongolian Barbecue became more popular, it was successfully introduced to the West. +

American restaurants, such as HuHot Mongolian Grill and BD's Mongolian Grill, claim that soldiers of the Mongol Empire gathered large quantities of meats, prepared them with their swords and cooked them on their overturned shields over a large fire. A German restaurant chain with the same concept claims that the Mongolian soldiers cooked their meals on a heated stone. +

Typically, diners choose various ingredients from a display of thinly sliced raw meats (beef, pork, lamb, turkey, chicken, shrimp) and vegetables (cabbage, tofu, sliced onion, cilantro, broccoli, and mushrooms, pineapple, lychee), and put them in a bowl or on a plate. These ingredients are given to the griddle operator who adds the diner's choice of sauce and transfers them to one section of the hot griddle. Oil and sometimes water may be added to ease cooking, and the ingredients are stirred occasionally.

The ample size of the Mongolian barbecue griddle allows for several diners' food to be cooked simultaneously on different parts of the griddle. Each dish will be stirred in its turn, as the operator walks around the outside of the grill and turns each individual diner's food in succession. When cooking is complete, each finished dish is scooped into a bowl and handed to the diner. Many Mongolian barbecue restaurants feature an "all-you-can-eat" buffet format.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated April 2016

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