Mongolian food is certainly not very well known. And first of all, do not expect any “Mongolian Barbeques”, “Mongolian Beef” or “hotpots” in Mongolia. They’re all outside inventions, but there is Mongolian barbeque and Hotspot in town – it is franchise from America and Japan. High in meat and flour, and with lots of added dairy products, Mongolian cuisine is eminently practical – like stopping at a petrol station. You may prepared for the worst, even bringing along vitamin supplements for the reported lack of vegetables and fruit. But, you’ll find out you’re wrong. Meats in Mongolia has an amazingly strong flavour because of the pasture with wild flowers, medical herbs. Vitamins come through the meat and milk of animals that grazed in the beautiful wild nature with deep green plants.
But, in the city, variety of restaurants now offer Mongolian food – it’s not Mongolian lamb like you may expect. You can enjoy the traditional cuisine prepared with modern twist using local ingredients at restaurants or you can enjoy French, Italian, American, Mexican, Cuban, Japanese and Korean meals with the best flavour of Mongolian meats.
At the top of culinary list – certainly one of the most memorable you will experience if you are lucky enough to have it – is boodog, an exotic goat dish deeply immersed in Mongolian tradition and offered only on special occasions. First, goat’s entails and bones are removed and the carcass filled with herbs and hot stones, its neck tightly tied to act as a pressure – cooker. The carcass is then placed over coals to cook for two or three hours. When the goat is ready, the gathered guests are each given a piping-hot and slightly sticky stone, typically round and black, straight from the carcass, which you toss back and forth in both hands “for good luck”.
Simpler and more popular version – known as horhog – uses the fat – tailed sheep, ideally the whole animal. Again with hot stones, chunks of meat and vegetables such as potatoes and carrots are placed in a tightly sealed metal pot and cooked over a hot fire.
Another addition to meals is dried meat or borts, usually mutton, goat meat and beef which is cut along strips and hung to air – dry.
Traditionally, meat is not eaten during the 40 days of fasting after the Lunar New Year, or Tsagaan Sar, as animals are pregnant, but it resumes after the young are born in spring. Milk becomes prolific and both consumption – and production for the winter ahead – begins. There are some 40 different kinds of cheese and milk products. Typically these include yogurts (tarag), clotted cream (orom), hard creamy cheeses (byaslag and eezgii), melted butter (shar tos), and those dried curds seen desiccating on the sunny roofs of gers called aaruul.
This is also when the legendary drink “Airag”, known elsewhere as “kumis”, is produced from mare’s milk. Tangy and slightly fizzy, the drink has the alcohol content of beer and like fine wines, differs widely in taste depending on the region, with the airag from Saikhan suom in Bulgan aimag and Erdenedalai soum in Dundgobi aimag are the most famous.
A more elaborate seven-step process distils milk into a traditional spirit called “shimiin arkhi”. Like other Asians and Mongolians lack a particular enzyme to break down strong alcohol, and thus they produce this relatively weak spirit, certainly far less concentrated than the later imported. Served warm, shimiin arkhi has the rough alcohol content of wine.
Mongolians are very fond of tea, which is served year – round and at any time of the day either straight green or black, with splinters of little twigs, ore more often with milk. In some regions the milky tea is also salted or slightly buttered, while some households like flavoring it with roasted flour or grain.
source: Mongolia: Nomad Empire of the Eternal Blue Sky (Odyssey Mongolia) book by Carl Robinson
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