TRADITIONAL MONGOLIAN FOOD
Vegans Out of Step
In the land of Genghis Khan, low fat vegetarian cuisine doesn’t cut it.
In a country where nomads still roam the bone-chilling steppes, the way to stay nourished in -40 degree winters is with heaping portions of meat and assorted animal fat. Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes and onions along with garlic are in the mix, but mere sideshows to the main meat event.
Mongolians like their meat combined with noodles in hot soups and also stuffed into dumplings that are bronzed in animal fats. Then they wash it down with vodka. Chinggis (Genghis) Vodka is the unofficial national drink comprising 30 percent of all distilled beverage sales.
With big four legged animals plentiful both domestic and in the wild they often end up being served. Horse is a particular favorite and is available in many grocery stores. Sheep, camel, goat, yak and various game is also prized.
The Good, the Savory, the Unsavory
Here is a sampler of some of Mongolia’s savory and not-so-savory fare. We’ve found on our Mongolian treks that our clients do not take readily to the Mongolian palate. So we bring in our specially trained chef from Kilimanjaro to prepare more familiar delicacies suited to the western palate.
But for the more adventurous, read on.
Buuz-feed: Walk down any street in Ulaan Bataar, the world’s coldest capital, and you’re likely to see Buuz (pronounced like “boots”) signs over hole-in-the-wall restaurants. These steam heated, meat filled dumpling pockets provide instant energy and are easy on a Westerner’s palate. They are Mongolia’s version of fast food.
Pass the blow torch: Boodog or blow torched marmot has got to be one of the world’s most “exotic” dishes. Take a hollowed out marmot then fill it with red hot stones, salt, onions and the shredded meat of the demised. Use a blowtorch to burn off the critter’s hair. Don’t experiment with this dish at home.
Finger/foot food: Khuushuur is a throwback to campsites in the Mongol horde era. These dumplings are deep fried in mutton fat and stuffed with either mutton or beef along with onions and salt. Sure to warm the cockles of your stressed heart, they also have curative powers. Mongolians will hold them in their fingertips and press them on the soles of their feet, hoping to keep the blood circulating to their extremities.
Chinese food: China and Russia have major influences over Mongolian cuisine and Guriltai Shul is a prime example. This Chinese inspired soup is filled with fried noodles and assorted meat chunks.
Horhog: Another dish from the Khan campaigns— bake sheep, add veggies and salt then serve in a wooden basket. This is among the more colorful and attractive dishes for Western eyes/stomachs.
Hangover recipe: After a night out on the steppes or in the Ulaan Bataar bars, Bantan is consumed slowly. This creamy textured soup consisting of meat and dough crumbs is said to be the antidote from drinking too much Chinggis Vodka.
In our soft culture, foodies live to eat, but Mongolia’s hearty people have always eaten to stay alive. Mongolia’s food reflects its history and geography so don’t expect the cholesterol police to change its meaty menus any time soon.