To many people, Mongolian Food is quite different from their daily diet. Mongolian Food is known for its white food (consists of dairy) and red food (consists of meat). Meat is either cooked, used as an ingredient for soups and dumplings, or dried for winter. Due to geographic proximity and deep historic ties with China and Russia, Mongolian Food is also influenced by Chinese and Russian cuisine. To get an idea of what kind of food Mongolians eat, you can check this out first Mongolian Food Culture – TOP 5 Misconceptions
When we travelled across the southern part of Mongolia, we went to the more undeveloped part toward Gobi Desert. During our 11 days summer trip, we tried some of the most traditional foods that Mongolians usually eat. Here I give you the list of some must try foods in Mongolia:
1. Tsuivan – Цуйван
At the beginning, I thought Tsuivan is a kind of fried noodle. Apparently, I’m wrong! It is actually dry cooked stew noodle. Noodle cooked with sliced meat (mostly mutton) and a dash of cabbage, onion, and carrot. Noodle used can be the dry one, or freshly made noodle. The meatiness of the stew blends in with the unhampered flavor of the vegetables create a unique taste.
Profile : rather bland with strong meaty aroma
Note : expect to eat a lot of Tsuivan during your trip, most family will serve you this food in the ger.
2. Budaatai Khuurga – Будаатай Хуурга
An authentic Mongolian rice meal. Rice cooked with shredded lamb or beef, onion, cabbage, carrot or bell pepper. This fulfilling food can be served both at lunch or dinner. Very simple and quick, the best option for hungry stomach.
Profile : tasty with smoky note
Note : quite similar to fried rice, the only different is the (almost always) gigantic portion
3. Buuz – Бууз
Buuz is considered the national dish of Mongolia and is often found in many roadhouses and hole-in-the-walls. It came from the same root as chinese dumpling, and is widely eaten during Mongolian New Year. Although sharing the same tradition with the Chinese version, Mongolian dumpling is different since they are made from a typically hardy dough. Buuz is made with flour dough, filled with coarse grind mutton (or beef), mixed with onion, garlic and pepper, and then steamed.
Profile : strong meat flavor, very juicy, thick skin
Note : hit Khaan Buuz if you want to try it in Ulaanbaator
4. Khuushur – хуушууp
Khuushur is one of Mongolia’s more common dishes, largely influenced by Russian cuisine. Very similar to Buuz, only that Khuushur is the fried version. The meat (again…mostly mutton) is placed inside a dough pocket and then fried in oil until golden brown. Khuushur is mostly finger food and should be rightly eaten by hand. Mongolians believe eating piping hot Khuushur by hand can increase blood circulation. One Khuushur is usually not enough, so Mongolians will stack a couple of Khuushurs together and eat it with ketchups…does this remind you of burger?
Profile : crunchy skin, juicy meat inside
Note : attention…freshly fried Khuushur could be very hot!
5. Borts – Борц
The Mongolian nomadic way of life and the countries climatic conditions made Mongolian creatively preserve meat. The longest way to preserve animal meat is to cut and dry. In Mongolia, the most widespread method is air drying. The meat is cut into long strips which then hung in the shade, usually for 4-5 months. This preserved meat then becomes very suitable for long journey, or as winter food. To cook Borts, just soak it in water. The meat will expand up to two and half times in size, and is ready to used.
Profile : when cooked, the flavor is quite strong, smoky note
Note : Borts could be a perfect gift to bring home too
6. Aaruul – Ааруул
Aaruul (Mongolian curd cheese) is one of the main foods of Mongolian nomadic people. The products are preserved in natural ways that ensure their quality for long periods. Traditionally dried Aaruul, dried in the sun and wind, is a rare product today. The dried pieces can be stored almost indefinitely. However, they can get quite hard, so most people suck on them, rather than bite them. Mongolians believe that hard aaruul is good for strengthening the teeth and gums.
Profile : sweet and sour, like eating a hard yogurt
Note : suitable for gift since it tastes like candy (and also very healthy)
Bonus Part : What to drink!
1. Airag – Айраг
We were so lucky that we travelled Mongolia in summer, the season when the dairy products were abundant. Many times we saw nomadic people were milking their mares. However, mares’ milk has been recognized as a strong laxative because of high content of lactose. This can caused digestive problems for those who suffer lactose intolerance (most Asians in adult age).
But it will be a waste if we don’t consume the milk, since horse milk is considered having very high nutrients. Therefore almost all of it is turned into Airag, Mongolian national beverage. Mare milk is fermented (with addition of yeast) and served as a mild (2-3%) alcoholic beverage. For long centuries, airag has been recognized as a wholesome beverage which influences alimentary canal, circulation system and immune system.
Profile : tang, sour, sparkling sensation
Note : eventhough it is a very scary drink for foreigner, make sure to try some before leaving Mongolia, you won’t regret it
Just earlier, I mentioned Airag, the alcoholic beverage for nomads since the time of Genghis Khan. But then, globalization came to Mongolia. Eventhough some nomads still drink Airag (especially during special occasion), but now most people consume vodka. Vodka is quicker (compare 40% to 2% alcohol in Airag) and more reliable in terms of supply. The most popular among Vodka is Chinggis Vodka (named after Genghis Khan), making up 30% of the distilled spirits market.
Profile : strong and smooth, aromatic aftertaste
Note : bring this vodka during the trip, it helps to warm your body in the cold ger
3. Suutei Tsai – Сүүтэй Цай
Suutei Tsai is Mongolian milk tea. Well, don’t compare Mongolian tea with fine English tea. In fact, those are two entirely different beverages. When Mongolians say tea, please expect to have milk, with very little of tea, and salt! For Suutei Tsai, they generally use cow, camel or sheep milk. This tea is served warm in little bowl, a standard beverage to every meal. Honestly, for me who are living in a tea producer country, I must say that this so called milk tea has barely taste of tea. But still, it is a very fulfilling beverage to finish a meal.
Profile : a bit salty, mild, hint of tea
Note : they now provide the instant version at the supermarket, just in case you miss this milk tea at home