MONGOLIAN FOOD AND 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 \=/]
“Milk remains a staple in the Mongolian diet, however. It is also consumed as: yoghurt; milk wine (i.e., fermented milk, the most prized of which is fermented mare's milk, which can be further fermented into a frothy, beer-like drink called airag); milk tofu (a process involving coagulated, fermented milk, where the dry parts are separated and form into a stiff, tofu-like texture); sour milk (i.e., "buttermilk"); a cottage-cheese like product derived as a "waste product" from the production of certain types of butter. \=/
Milk tea (Mongolian Tea) is the most important beverage for Mongolians who live — either all or part of the year — in the traditional nomadic style. Similar to Tibetan milk tea, it is made by “boiling crushed brick tea for a few minutes, then slowly adding milk (1 part milk to 3-6 parts tea) while stirring constantly; and of course as butter itself, which comes in several varieties depending on how it is made and the animals from whence it comes. Sometimes the thick cream of milk is cooled and eaten as-is, with a spoon, or parts of it are skimmed off forming naipizi, or "milk skin", which tastes like a cross between butter and cream, and also eaten as-is.” \=/
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.
Mongolian Nomad Food and Drink
Among herders the typical diet consist primarily of dairy products, mutton, milk teas, millet, koumiss and liquor. The traditional staples of a Mongolian herders diet have been milk, milk products and meat from the animals they herded. Milk products were consumed fresh in the summer and fall. Butter was made from milk, skimmed of during boiling. The remaining milk was fermented with a special yeast to make various kinds of cheeses and yoghurt. Some milk was fermented and distilled into a special kinds of vodka. After distillation the remaining curdled liquid was mixed with flour, roots and bird cherries and frozen into a solid that was consumed during the winters.
Buryats (a Mongolian group) eat the meat of all kinds of animals but prefer mutton, except in the winter when they like to eat beef. Meat is usually prepared in slightly salted water. The bouillon is used as a flavoring for noodles or millet. Out on the steppe, sheep is boiled in salt water over a stove fueled by cow dung. The Mongols break off large chunks of sheep fat and pop in their mouths. Mutton liver, preferably wrapped in stomach lining, is regarded as a delicacy. Many animals are slaughtered in late autumn and the meat is frozen so it can be eaten in the winter.
Mongolians generally don’t eat horse meat. Kazakhs eat horse sausage. Horse jerky is marketed as a pet food. A typical nomad "hospitality bowl," which is offered to guest contains chunks of tart homemade cheese, sugar cubes, sweet crackers, hard candies, pastries deep fried in yak or mutton fat, vodka and koumiss when it is in season.
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.
Mongolian White Food
Milky food, which is called "Chagan Yide" in Mongol, is called of "white food" in Chinese. It is usually made of the pure milk of horse, cow, sheep or camel. It comes in a great variety and Mongolians regard it as very tasty and rich in nutrition at the same time, saying it has "good qualities of hundreds kinds of food". Regarded as the food of daily life, served at feasts to guests and made as a religious offering, Mongolian milky food and the ways of making it varies from region to region but mostly consists of milk skin, cream, cheese and milky bean curd. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
Milk skin, "Wu Rimo" in Mongol, is made of pure milk. To make it: 1) pour fresh milk into a pot and it boil with a slow fire. 2) Then, mix with a scoop, pouring fresh milk into the pot from time to time. 3) It is not until the coagulation appears and floats on the surface that the fire can be turn off. 4) Hours later, after alveolate milk skin has coagulated, pick up the milk skin slowly with chopsticks and dry the water embedded on it. 5) Fold it into two. 6) It can be offered as food after dried. Mongolians and many Chinese believe milk skin not only is rich in nutrition, it also possesses medical value as well. It is recorded In “Drinking and Dieting Zhengyao” written in the Yuan dynasty that "as the attribute of milk skin is cool and fresh, it is healthy for clearing lungs. Besides satisfying your thirst and keeping you from cough, it also assists to darken and brighten your hair's color and has the efficacy to cure hematemesis as well." ~
Cream and butter can be prepared and cooked in various ways and has many different names. Usually, it is fermented from fresh milk that kept in bucket, pot or other container. To make cream and butter: 1) Churn milk continuously with a stick after it has turned sour until milk and oil separates. 2) Then, remove the white fat floating on the top, which is cream. Mongolians say it tastes good if the cream is mixed with food, or stir-fried with rice or noodles. 3) If the cream is heated up in a boiler and churned slowly, yellow oil can be extracted. This is butter. The stuff under the butter is ghee dregs. Mongolians and Tibetans believe butter is the essence of milk for it contains multi notorious substance, which is helpful to relieve your mind as well as rest to attain mental tranquility. Moreover, butter can also moisten the lungs and relax the muscles and joints, brighten your eyes and increase life span. ~
Mongolian cheese more or less is the same as yoghourt. To make it: 1) pour fresh milk in a container, such as jar, pot or basin. 2) After letting the milk gradually ferment and coagulate, the concretion separated from the whey is cheese. In the Chifeng area they make cheese by: 1) heating up fresh milk in a boiler; 2) then mix with a scoop while separating out the floating foam and placing it into another pot, becomes cheese (yoghurt) after coagulation. Cheese can be either consumed alone, or mixed with rice or other food. Mongolian say it is tasty and delicious, plus it can also relieve summer heat as well as help one to refresh oneself. ~
Milky tofu is a way of making tofu from milk: To make it: 1) pour yoghurt that has already been extracted from cream into a pot and boil it so that the moisture in it evaporates. 2) After the milk solidifies, place it into molds. It usually eaten after being dried in the sun or shade. Another way to make it is: 1) cool down the yoghurt after heating it up, and 2) then put it into a piece of coarse cloth to filter and extrude. 3) Press into different shapes. Depending on the making process, milky tofu tastes sweet or sour— generally, sweet if sugar is added; and sour without sugar. Dried tofu can be stored for a long time. It can be stir-fried with rice, use to make milk tea and taken as solid food while out in the pastures or on a long journey.
Mongolian Eating Customs
Mongolians have traditionally not eaten with chopsticks. They have generally used a spoon, fork or knife or just their hands. Boiled meat is passed around in a large communal bowl with a knife. People slice of meat. The choicest pieces are the ones with the most fat. These days in Inner Mongolia and elsewhere in China, many Mongolians eat with chopsticks and observe the same eating customs as Chinese.
After entering a yurt 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.
"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 ~]
"Stewed meat taken by hands" is a traditional way for Mongolian people to take meat. The name is derived from the fact that Mongolians eat it with their hands rather than using chopsticks. Everyone takes the meat with a Mongolian knife to cut into smaller pieces. The traditional way for nomads to show respect and love and esteem to guests is to propose a toast and offer stewed meat taken by hands. Honored guests entering a yurt are often given a silver bowl or golden cup filled with koumiss or tea and presented with a (a long piece of silk used as greeting gift among Tibetans and Mongolians), sometimes accompanied by a greeting song for the guests that come from afar. If a guest does not want drink, he should propose a toast taste a little of what is offered to him and return the bowl or cup to the host. If a guest declines wothout doing this it is considered a great insult to the host. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
Mongolians and other Central Asians like to drink koumiss, an alcoholic drink made from fermented mare's milk with salt added. Koumiss (also spelled kumiss) is a sour, bitter-tasting milky drink, with bits of brown horse-milk fat floating it in it, made by adding yeast cultures to a mare's milk mixture. Ordinary koumiss has an alcoholic content of three percent—less than beer, which is generally four to six percent and less than wine, which is generally 12.5 to 14.5 percent Koumiss is often called airag in Mongolia and is regarded as the Mongolian national drink. The word koumiss is of Turkic origin. [Source: Michael Wines, New York Times, July 19, 2002]
The taste of koumiss has been described as "across between buttermilk and champagne" with a “tang reminiscent of good pickle brine” or a strong smoked gouda and is said to be high in vitamin C. Hillary Clinton tried some when she visited Central Asia . She said it tasted like yoghurt. Other have said it tastes like “stomach bile.” Its white color is equated with purity.
Koumiss is typically made in the summer or autumn, when the pastures are lush, the herds are thriving and milk is plentiful. Containing a relatively low percentage of alcohol, koumiss is usually translucent. It is said that "the color is similar to white wine", and "it is like sweet dew to the taste and smelled as brewed sweet wine". Mongolians say koumiss has a mellow, satiny, sweet and sour texture and a sweet, milky smell. On the health front they say it dispels cold, stimulates the circulation of blood and aids digestion. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
Koumiss has been around for thousands of years and is a fixture of daily life as well as festivals, feasts and big celebrations. During Tsagaan Sar, the Mongolian New Year, koumiss is presented to all guests and is part of the welcoming ritual for the White Month. In the old days servants who were late reportedly had to down five to 10 liters of koumiss as a punishment. Mongolians insist that its healthy because it made of milk. William Rubrick wrote in the 13th century: “At the taste of it, I broke out in a sweat with horror and surprise...It makes the inner man most joyful, intoxicates weak head and greatly provokes urine.” The Mongolian provinces of Arkhangai, Bulgan , Overkhangai are said to produce the best airag.
Making and Drinking Koumiss
Mare’s milk is much thicker than cow’s milk and is so sweet that it seems like it has sugar added. It is the sugar content that allows it be fermented and made into an alcoholic drink. Koumiss is generally only available in the spring and summer, when mares are foaling. The milk is drawn from a mare by allowing a foal to start nursing and then pulling the young animal away but keeping the foal beside the mother. Milking a mare is a difficult and even dangerous procedure. A herd of 600 horses produces about 25 gallons of milk a day.
The milk is the collected in a bucket and poured into rawhide bags. Some starter is added from the last batch to churn along with 2½ gallons of mare’s milk, half gallon of water and some cow butter to keep the leather flexible. The churn is a barrel-size bag with a stick sticking out the top. The mare’s milk mixture is churned 500 times a day, or churned fewer times every few hours, during the three or four days it takes to ferment. On the last evening it is churned 5,000 times until it curdles. Bags of fermenting koumiss hang in leather bags inside gers to left of the door, It is customary for visitors to a ger to stir the koumiss to assist fermentation.
Koumiss is usually ladled out of a large container and served in pint-size bowls. It is often handed around in a communal bowl. One must drink a lot of it to get high. It is sometimes poured from glass to glass several times to make it thick like whipped cream. Before drinking it Mongolians dip their ring finger in it and smear some of their forehead and flick it in the four compass directions as a sign of respect to airag itself. Some Mongolians drink ten liters of the stuff a day. Describing a herder drinking koumiss, Michael Wines wrote in the New York Times, “He lifts a bowl to his mouth, drinks deeply and practically belches an emphatic, ‘Ahhhh!’ He licks his lips...Then he does it all over again.”
Fermented milk can be made from the fresh milk of horse, cow, sheep or camel. Bumping-ferment is the traditional way of making kumiss. It is said that this method dates back to the time of the ancient nomads. Ancient horsemen usually placed fresh milk into leather bag that they carried with them. Since the nomads often rode their horses for long periods, moving up and won as one does on horseback, land all day, the milk fermented under these conditions, especially when the weather was hot. The result was fermented milk with a unique sweet, sour and hot taste. The bumping-ferment method of making koumiss attempts simulate the conditions of the ancient horsemen: 1) Fresh milk is churned from time to time in a container, such as leather bag or bucket, with a special wooden stick. 2) The milk is heated up and stirred until it ferments and separates. 3) The dreg that sinks to at the bottom are removed while the whey floating is the koumiss. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
To make koumiss with a higher alcohol content requires distillation: 1) pour milk into a kettle or pot to heat up. 2) While heating, cover the kettle or pot with a bucket that has no bottom or a tubular hood made of purple wicker or elm branches. 3) Place a basin or a pot of cold water for cooling above the bucket or the hood, in which a small jar is hanged. 4) In addition to this, sometimes a tube is placed in the kettle mouth. 5) After the milk is heated it vaporizes and collects in bucket above the pot. 6) As the vapor cools down it congeals into drops, which drip into the little jar or flow through the tube of the kettle. If you distill the koumiss over and over again, the percentage of alcohol increases gradually. ~
Mongolian clothing has traditionally been made to be strong, warm, durable and comfortable and flexible when riding on a horse or sitting on the floor of a yurt. Both men and women wear dels (caftan-like, ankle-length padded silk robes lined with sheepskin for the winter and tied around the waist with a sashlike belt) in the winter and a terlig (thinly-lined coat similar to a del) in the summer.
To common eyes, Mongolian dress seems very simple, no more than a robe and a pair of boots. In fact, Mongolian clothing and personal adornments are rather complicated and colorful. They vary in forms and materials according to different regions, ages, status of marriage, and distinguish between splendid attire and common costume. In general, Mongolian dresses and personal adornments mainly include: ornaments, robes, belts and boots. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
In the cities most people wear Western clothes and don traditional clothes for festivals and special events. On the steppe you can find people who wear traditional clothes for everyday use. Many people have several dels. Elaborate ones made from nice fabrics for dress up occasions and everyday ones that are okay to get dirty. Different clans, tribes and ethnic groups often have distinguishing markers or fashion styles on their dels that all Mongolians recognize.
Mongolians have traditionally worn wool in the winter and cotton in the summer. Wool is also used to make saddle bags, bridles and ropes. Leather and fur are used to make various parts of clothing. Mongolians are fond of bright colors. The dels are often bright colored and have a silky sheen and are trimmed with a bright color of contrasting shades and colorful edging. Theroux wrote: "Mongolians wore mittens and boots; in this brown country they favored bright colors—it was not unusual to see an old man with a red hat and a purple frock coat, and blue trousers stuck into his multi-colored boots."
Dels (Mongolia robes) are designed for horseback riding, keeping riders warm while not constraining them. They have high collars that can be buttoned or unbuttoned. The left side buttons close over the right side. Sometimes a long sash or leather belt adorned with silver or copper ornaments is tied around the waist. Under theirs dels, Mongolians generally wear baggy trousers and a shirt. In the winter Mongolians wear sheepskin coats and cloaks with wool facing inward. Shepherds in some parts of Central Asia, have traditionally worn a loose hooded felt cape, called a kepenek that keeps them dry in the heaviest of downpours. "Without a kepenek I couldn't last half a day in the rain," a shepherd once said. "With one, I can stay out until I need to go home." Kepeneks are used throughout Central Asia as a tent and blanket as well coat and they are said to be so stiff and sturdy they stand on their own.
According to Chinatravel.com: The del is perhaps the most practical article of clothing of a Mongolian man of the steppe. Besides being the main garment (heavy jackets and the like may serve as outer garments over the deel), the deel can serve as a makeshift tent, a blanket and a screen, or mask, to hide behind, and it's long sleeves can be rolled down as gloves to provide further protection against the sun, wind, or rain, etc. There are summer deel and winter deel, just as deel come in various lengths and in various materials, ranging from leather (skin with or without fur) to cloth. The skin may stem from the lamb, goat, wolf, fox, otter, marten, or from the snow weasel, to name the most common. Cloth deel are generally either of a mixture predominantly consisting of cotton, of rayon, or of pure silk. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
In pasturing areas in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, Mongolians wear lined robes in spring, unlined robes in summer, and fur robes as well as cotton robes in winter. Men's robes are usually loose, while women's are rather tight to show their figures. The characteristics of the Mongolian robe are that it has big and long sleeves and the edge of the robe, the cuffs and necklines are decorated with silks, satins, laces and patterns of "screwed intestines", "flaky clouds" or furs of tigers, snow leopards, otters and martens and so on. In addition to being keeping out the cold in winter, theses robes can guard against mosquitoes and biting insects in summer (believed me there can a lot of mosquitos and flies in Mongolia in the summer). When traveling, they can serve as quilts at night. Mongolians in the area of Ordos like wearing a waistcoat of various lengths outside the robes. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
Sashes and belts are an indispensable part of Mongolian attire. Generally speaking, the belt is made from cotton cloth as well as silks and satins and are three or four meters in length. The color often goes with the robe. A tightly-pulled belt can help keep out wind and cold, and keep the waist and ribs stable and vertical when riding a horse and holding the reins. In addition, it can be a decorative ornament. When a man sashes a belt, he often lifts his robe a bit, which is suitable for for riding. On the belt are hung three objects that are always with him: the Mongolian knife, steel for flint and a tobacco pouch. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
According to Chinatravel.com: The Mongolian's sash is another highly utilitarian item that serves a number of purposes, like all Mongolian attire. A woman's sash is shorter and folded more narrowly than a man's sash, and in some localities a woman ceases to wear a sash at all after she marries, wearing instead a tight-fitting silk vest over the deel, elaborately embroidered and sometimes studded with precious stones. A man's sash, which is generally cinched tightly at the waist, is much longer and is folded into a broad band that can serve as a corset, protecting the wearer's internal organs from excessive jostling while riding. It also serves as a place to stash the indispensible knife and to attach various accessory pouches. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
“In addition to serving as a place to stash a knife and to fasten pouches, the sash, given the characteristic manner in which a deel is cut, serves as the bottom of a "pouch" that is formed by the sash and the wrap-around portion of the del above the sash, which offers a vent, or opening, on the wearer's right-hand side, similar to the hand-warmer "kangaroo" pocket on a sweater, but here, a single-vented pocket. \=/
Men and women wear Mongol gutal (embroidered leather knee boots with thick soles and upturned toes). There are several explanations as to why the boots are made in this way. Some say they give riders confidence that they won’t slip from the stirrups. Other says that Buddhism is the reason: the upturned toes are said to be less likely to kill insects than conventional footwear. In the winter felt is placed in them for extra warmth. Traditional flat felt boots are made for horseback riding. They are sometimes uncomfortable for walking.
According to Chinatravel.com: Traditional Mongolian boots also serve several purposes related to life on the steppe: they reduce the incidence of snake and insect bite, and they reduce chafing during the many hours spent on horseback. The choice of boot type, or style, depends on the season. Traditional Mongolian boots are generally made of leather, though sometimes they are made of cloth. As Mongolian society develops and the division of labor intensifies, the old method of Mongolian boot-making may give way to more modern, mass-production methods, which itself may well dictate boot styles to a large extent, since the more complicated the method of production, the more expensive the end product. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Cloth boots are often made of thick cloth or canvas. They are designed to be light and feel soft. Leather boots are largely made of cowhide, horsehide or donkey hide. This kind of boots are tough , waterproof and good at keeping out the cold. There are generally three types of leather boots: those whose tip curls upwards, those whose tip curl horizontally and those whose tips do not curl t all, which are suitable for walking in the desert, dry pasture and wet pasture, respectively. Mongolian boots display exquisite workmanship with many fine decorative embroideries and patterns cut and pasted on the uppers and legs of the boots. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
Headgear is often an indicator of where someone is from. Mongolia men sometimes don loovus (pointed hats) on feast days or weddings or other important occasions. These have traditionally been made of wolf or fox skin and are said offer good protection in the cold and wind. Other types of men’s hat include the janjin malgai and toortsog. Women often wrap their heads in a kerchief.
Women usually wear scarves. A scarf is usually several zhangs long (one zhang is about 3.3 meters in length). They come in a multitude of colors and are made of fabric, flax, silk or thin silk. Young Mongolian women like to tie the scarf on the head, and then coil up a little knot on the right, letting the fringe come down. Married women use the scarf to wrap up the back of the top of the head by tying a circle around it, leaving no fringe. On formal occasions, they must wear caps with embroidered designs of red phoenix facing the sun or two dragons playing with a bead. At the crown of the cap are red fringe and shining gems.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
It is said that the custom dates of women wearing scarves dates back to Genghis Khan times. When Genghis Khan unified the Mongol tribes, he ordered that everyone should wear a scarf to symbolize there was a part of the Mongol flag on their head and express pride to be Mongols. On their wedding day, Mongolian women wear graceful and luxuriant ornaments that go with their splendid attire. The headwear in Ordos is most typical of this kind of Mongolian headwear. Translated as "fillets", this kind of headware is mainly composed of "pendants" and "hair covers" and is typically worn in pairs: one on each side of the head. It is not only made with masterly craftsmanship, but is also decorated with hundreds of corals, dozens of silver chains, pearl clusters, and many silver loops, silver sheet, and carnelian. When it is worn, the fillet looks like a pearl-decorated curtain hanging before the face. A pair of fillet weighs three to four jins (one jin equals half a kilogram), and some can weigh as much as ten jins. It is said that only flocks of fine horses or hundreds of fine camels were not enough to barter for a top-grade pair of fillet.
Buriat men and women have traditionally worn headgear made from sewn fabric or fur from beavers, otters, fox or other animals. In Inner Mongolia, people wear a variety of headgear including turbans, round felt hats decorated with colored beads or astrakan or felt hats with brims. Cowboy hands are also popular as they are in Tibet.
Today, the Mongolian's hat is more often than not a mass-produced item, perhaps even imported, with the quality accordingly. The hat has always been the most special item of a Mongolian's attire. One does not leave one's hat lying about where it risks being crushed, but places it on a high perch precisely to avoid such mishaps. Such is the importance that has traditionally been attached to headdress in Mongolian culture that a hat must be worn when meeting or greeting non-family members, when entering a ger (though one may be invited to remove the hat once inside), or when in the street, where it is considered indecorous to go bareheaded.[Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Mongolian Ornaments and Hairstyles
Mongolian ornaments can be classified into five types: headwear, necklaces, waist decorations and hand decorations. Headwear, which consist mostly has scarves, hats, hair rings, plait clamps, plait covers, hairpins, hair clasps, earrings, eardrops, is the most decorative part in Mongolian ornaments.[Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
Men used to wear their hair pulled back in a braid. Women wore theirs in two braids covered with velvet. The braids were worn in front of the shoulders and silver and coral ornaments were woven into them. Young girls wore multi braids joined at the temple with red thread. Today, some girls wear their hair parted in the middle, embellished with two large beads and agate, coral and green jade ornaments.
In the old days upper class women wore elaborate headdresses and sculpted the hair in bizarre horn-like designs with hardened mutton fat and tied their hair with jewelry pieces made of silver, turquoise and coral. The French artists working on the second set of Star Wars films modeled some of the costumes worn by Queen Amidala (the Natalie Portman character) after some of the more showy examples of a Mongolian female dress. During festivals, even some nomads wore their hair in massive headdresses, decorated with silver and coral, or tied their hair with large bows. A family’s wealth was often measured by precious stones and metals in a woman’s hair.
Mongolian Men Clothes and Accessories
Men on the steppe often wear a bus (an embroidered waistbelt), and sometimes carry daggers or swords with silver ornaments. On the right side of the belt men have traditionally carried a tobacco pouch with tobacco, a snuffbox, a knife in a sheath and steel for starting fires. Pipes were carried in the boots. The steel, tinder and flint for starting fires were carried in a special sack, often beautifully embroidered and even adorned with silver plates. In the old days steel was so highly valued for starting fires it could be exchanged for a horse.
According to Chinatravel.com: The traditional accoutrements of the Mongolian male are: the Mongolian knife, a silver drinking bowl, an eating set consisting of a knife-and-chopsticks arrangement in its own sheath (in the spirit of the ubiquitous Swiss Army knife, it may also include a toothpick, an ear scratcher (!), and a tweezer), a flint-and-steel fire-making kit (usually a leather pouch containing the flintstone, and with a sturdy piece of steel along its base for striking the flint, making the pouch in effect a mini leather mitten ending in a firmly-attached piece of steel), silver rings, a snuffbox (today, usually a bottle), a tobacco pipe, a tobacco pouch, a pipe-cleaning hook, and a hada pouch (hada being narrow strips of silk or cotton used as a greeting gift, and though the hada itself is not of great intrinsic value, its symbolic value in this tradition-rich nomadic culture - where everything must be carried not only in or on the horseman's caftan, but carried so as not to interfere with the horseman's free movement - is immeasurable). The sophistication of these accoutrements and their workmanship ranges from the strictly utilitarian and inexpensive to the outright lavishly artistic and exorbitant, and invariably functions as a status symbol. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Mongolian Women’s Clothes and Accessories
Traditionally-dressed Women wear trousers or shorts under their dels, which are similar to those of Mongolia men. The sleeves, cuffs and collars are made of colored fabric. Especially valued as raw materials are Chinese silks and brocades. The hems of the coats are sometimes decorated with the fur of otters or some other animal. Over their coats, married women have traditionally worn a sleeveless jacket (uuzha). Western Buryats wear just a jacket. Eastern Buryats wear a gathered skirt. Like their coats, sleeveless jackets have a lining and a slit down the front from the collar to the hem. There are certain proprieties and particularities for sashing belts in Ordos and other areas. For example, unmarried women sash a girdle and leave the fringe behind. Once they get married, they become "Busiguihun" (Mongolian for a "person who does not sash a belt"), instead, they wear tight waistcoats to distinguish themselves from maidens. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, kepu.net.cn ~]
According to Chinatravel.com: The jewelry traditionally worn by Mongolian women include the use of precious metals (gold & silver), pearls, coral, agate, green jade, amber, turquoise, and lapis lazuli as well as other precious and semi-precious stones. Typical women's jewelry include hair pins, ear-rings, necklaces, bracelets (including Xileboqi back-and-headdress bracelets made of finely-worked silver and coral, and worn on the head and/ or the back), rings, and the special silver decorations called Bole that hang on either side of a woman's vest (they are in fact an artistic refinement - a symbolic replacement - of the utilitarian gadgets that in former times hung from a married woman's vest, after marriage had forced her to abandon the sash to which she had formerly attached them). The simpler items of adornment might be worn as part of one's everyday dress, while the more elaborate ones are only worn during festivals and on other auspicious occasions. The quality of materials and workmanship of the female's accoutrements, as with those of a male, serves as a status symbol. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Text Sources: 1) Encyclopedia of World Cultures: Russia and Eurasia/ China , edited by Paul Friedrich and Norma Diamond (C.K.Hall & Company, 1994); 2) Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~; 3) Ethnic China ethnic-china.com \*\; 4) Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/; 5) China.org, the Chinese government news site china.org *|* New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Chinese 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.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated June 2015