Mongolian Food: Snacks & Other

Standard

Previously, we’ve shared an overview of Mongolian food, what to expect for breakfasts, and shared a bit about typical lunch and dinner meals in Mongolia as well as where to eat them in UB. But what about the snacks?! Snacks are my love language, so of course, they get a post of their own. (Ok, it’s technically a shared post, pedant. Get off my lawn.)

Snacks!

1280px-GimbapOne of the first snacks we learned about in UB was gimbap, which is actually Korean. They are similar to Japanese sushi rolls, but the ones in Mongolia are typically filled with long thin strips of hyam (similar to summer sausage), cucumber, and pickled carrot and/or radish. Sometimes mayonnaise is added to the mix before it’s rolled to keep the rice moist longer. The reason for this is that they are sold as snacks all over the city but aren’t necessarily made on location. You’ll find them in convenience stores, at snack shacks by bus stops, and in deli sections at supermarkets. They’re cheap, filling, and we’ve yet to get food poisoning from them regardless of refrigeration. 😉 We’ve also had fun making them with students at our home.

Western-style junk food is very common in UB. Carbonated beverages, candy, chips, and cookies are all easy to find. We joke that grocery stores are 1/3 alcohol aisles, 1/3 chocolate aisles, and 1/3 everything else. Chocolate is much loved! There are American brands, but most brands are European. However, there is also the Mongolian brand Golden Gobi, which has some very nice chocolate bars. It’s worth noting that even if you find familiar snack food brands from your country, the flavors may be different in Mongolia than your home country. For example:

wp-image-857049353jpg.jpg

Apart from Korean and Western snacks, Mongolian snacks include aaruul, deli sandwiches, pine nuts (read an article on the national obsession here), and fried dough snacks like boov and boortsog.

Other Cuisines

This is a pretty common refrain for us, but have we mentioned recently that we had no idea what to expect when we first moved to Mongolia? We had images of gers dotting the steppes and rundown soviet leftovers in our minds so we were surprised by just how modern and international a city UB is. As mentioned in the Snacks section, Korean food is very popular, but other popular Asian restaurants abound: Chinese hotpot, Japanese sushi and noodles, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, Hazaragi, and more are readily available. There aren’t any African or South American restaurants that I know of, but there are American (not just KFC and Burger King), Mexican, English, French, Italian, German, Russian, and Turkish restaurants throughout the city center. Most of these foreign restaurants are on the pricey end to eat at regularly, especially for the average local or budget traveler, but if you’re a foodie, know that you won’t be disappointed if you come to UB.

Our favorite restaurant in UB, hands-down is Namaste, an Indian restaurant with several locations in the city. Our most frequented location is the one that’s northeast of the parliament building. If we want good food but don’t want to pay an arm and a leg, we like to pop into Coke and Kebab, which sells shishkebab and doner kebab for cheap. (This was a favorite during my pregnancies!) There are a few potential issues about eating out in UB. You might be told that what you’ve ordered is unavailable (like when we tried to order pho from a pho restaurant) or you might go check out a place or visit a favorite restaurant only to find it gone. Things change quickly in UB, especially when it comes to businesses! For more up-to-date foodie-related questions, I strongly advise checking out the UB Foodies FB group!

What kinds of foods would you want to try if you came to Mongolia?

Mongolian Food: Lunch & Dinner

Standard

Rather than write out a list of foods, I figured it would be better to include another video of traditional Mongolian dishes. Mike Chen (Strictly Dumpling) does a good job of breaking down the traditional foods along with giving some great context for why Mongolian food is the way it is (namely: hearty, meaty, and fatty). Obviously, he’s not a local, and there are a couple of areas where he’s misinformed, but this video is well worth your time. (Made me drool!)

Modern Nomads, the restaurant where Chen eats in the video is a great place to go if you visit UB and want some traditional foods in a more foreigner-friendly package. You could also go to a Khan Buuz or a Khan Khuushuur, which are like Mongolian fast food (in that you get traditional foods rather quickly). However, small cafes dot the city everywhere and provide traditional dishes at a number of cost points. The cheapest chain that I know of is called Tse, where every dish is just $1. (Some of these restaurants are better than others.)

A few things I’d like to clarify from the Strictly Dumpling video*. The “gravy” that was served with the khorkhog is just the broth that results from the cooking method. It’s thicker than one would expect broth to be (probably because it isn’t strained at all) and definitely comes with plenty of melted fat in it. Personally, we really like it, but not all foreigners like fat! Another thing that stood out was what he called “grandma soup”, which is called banshtai tsai. Bansh are a type of dumplings that are made smaller than buuz. The soup part is really Mongolian-style milk tea! 🙂 A final note: while there are vegetarian (and even some vegan) options in UB, if that’s a hard and fast rule for you, keep alternative food options with you as you travel through Mongolia. It is very hard to avoid animal products (or cross-contamination), especially in the countryside.

What are some traditional Mongolian foods that you’d like to try?

Beth sig

*Please don’t take this as me bashing Chen’s video at all. In fact, I think his video is awesome, and I wish more people would watch it so that they have an idea of what they’re getting into when they get to Mongolia. Go support his other videos while you’re at it!

Mongolian Food: Breakfast

Standard

The video above is a great look into the traditional Mongolian herders’ breakfast. You see a lot of uses for dairy–and making sure every part of the milk products are used–as well as an idea of how the different foods are prepared and consumed. From our experience in the city, this is not the norm for urban Mongolians. The caloric needs of those who work physically demanding jobs will always exceed those of the average office worker!

In the city, European or American style breakfast foods are readily available. Cold cereal, cold cuts, cheese, bread, etc., can be found at grocery stores and most mini markets. Fried breads, boov (pronounced “bough”) and boortsog, and drinkable yogurt are very common for a quick breakfast. Many Mongolians will eat breakfast mid-morning while at work (like when Americans might pause for a coffee break). Hardened aaruul (dried yogurt curds) softens in hot water and makes for an easy breakfast at one’s desk.

Most days, our Mongolian colleagues gathered in the teacher lounge to catch up over mugs of milk tea or hot seabuckthorn juice and shared breakfast items. (Community is highly valued in Mongolia, after all.) Like their teachers, the majority of our students skipped breakfast at home and would opt for piroshky (deep fried, not baked) and oroomog (sausage/hot dog wrapped in dough and either steamed or deep fried) at the school cafeteria, or run across the street for snacks at the mini market or bakery.

This pretty much sums up our knowledge of Mongolia breakfast! What kind of breakfast food would you like to try?

Beth sig

Mongolian Food: Intro

Standard

When in the US, a lot of people ask us what Mongolian food is like, and a typical second part of the initial question is, “Is it like Chinese food?” In short: no, it isn’t, although there are a few similarities. To be fair, what Americans typically think of as Chinese food isn’t really what they eat in China either. (JUST SAYING!)

animal close up daylight domestic

Photo by DoDo PHANTHAMALY on Pexels.com

If I could boil down Mongolian cuisine into its simplest form, I would say that it’s meat and dairy. Traditionally, Mongolian nomadic herders would eat milk products in spring and summer (when the livestock is giving birth and raising their young) and meat products in the fall and winter–when animals are old enough to be butchered and prepared in a variety of ways.

The Mongolian diet is more varied than that, of course, but those are the base foods that the vast majority of Mongolians love to eat. (There are, of course, vegetarian and vegan outliers, but they are outliers for a reason!) I’m hoping to put together a short series of posts on Mongolian food in the next few weeks or so, depending on our schedule. It’s been a busy…life. 🙂 My goal is to have posts on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

Hungrily,

Beth sig

Gandan

Standard

Gandantegchinlen Monastery, Gandan Khiid, or simply Gandan, is a large complex on the north side of UB that consists of several temples, a monastery, and a few Buddhist educational centers. The two links above provide a decent rundown of the history of Gandan, so I will simply write here about my own experiences in this place.

When I first visited Gandan in August 2014, I was struck by the abundant art and architecture throughout the complex. Gateways and buildings, especially under the eaves, are particularly detailed. What stood out to me the most about that first visit were the copious amounts of pigeons everywhere and the smell of juniper as incense smoke wafted from ornate metal containers. Nowadays, the pigeons are still a large part of Gandan, but they remain primarily outside of the complex walls as their proliferation was beginning to be viewed as a health hazard. People sell birdseed outside Gandan’s front gate to feed the pigeons with the hopes that said birds will bring prayers up to heaven.

In the subsequent years, we have visited Gandan a number of times–with newly arrived foreign teachers, with students, and with visiting family members. Each new visit reveals new knowledge and a deeper understanding of Mongolians’ practice of Buddhism and its influence on the nation. One time, we visited the attached college where would-be monks can study in preparation for their futures. Another time, we encountered a class of young boys in training for future lives in the monastery. The youngest boy was only six years old, and one of the older boys said that they wouldn’t graduate, per se, but that their education was for life. On yet another visit, I encountered a Buddhist nun* in an otherwise unopened temple, which is the only time that I’ve seen a Buddhist nun in Mongolia.

Many people go to Gandan. Of course, there are the tourists like us, some of whom are curious about the place for its historic value while others are keen on exploring its spiritual roots. However, the vast majority of those who visit the complex are Mongolian. They go to pray, to meditate, to find peace. Wealthy and poor, old and young, you will see a bit of every strata in the country here–except, perhaps, the Kazakh minority who are by and large Muslim practitioners. Even some of our students who wouldn’t consider themselves Buddhist still visit Gandan from time to time.

If you visit Mongolia, Gandan is worth a trip if you are interested in the country’s religious heritage. Whereas Mongolians visit the site for free, foreigners must pay for admission. Inside the largest temple (with the notable statues), picture takers must pay an additional fee, but otherwise there is no photography charge (as of now–that could change in the future). Find a guide if you can, but otherwise, take the time to observe, be respectful, and learn what you can.

*I’m not sure if this is the correct term, actually, but I haven’t found a term specific to Buddhism that differentiates between male and female devotees in this way. If you know a different and/or correct term, please let me know in the comments!

Heart Home

Standard

This is where we find ourselves these days–home and yet not home. Our hearts and feet in two different worlds. We have been back in the US since June 2018, and although our current situation is “home”, we yearn to be back in Mongolia. Because we are actively working towards returning to Mongolia, we feel as if we can’t put down deep roots. Everything here (housing, work, health insurance, etc.) is temporary, and we know that and feel the constant reminder.

There are many good things about being in the US right now. The best part about living here for longer than a month or two in the summer is that we have more time to spend with friends and family that we have lived apart from for the last four years. It also means that we have access to resources that we didn’t have in Mongolia, primarily early intervention services for Z who is still not speaking at almost 3 years. (To be fair, I didn’t speak until about three years of age, and there are several other relatives on both sides of the family who had delayed speech but no other developmental concerns.) We aren’t truly concerned about Z not yet talking, but we do want to make sure that he is speaking before we return to Mongolia. Speech therapists are rare to nonexistent (to our knowledge) in UB, and English-language speech therapists? Might as well ask for a rainbow colored unicorn.

Even so, we hope to return to Mongolia in fall 2019 or possibly spring 2020, but there are many factors that need to line up just so before we can go back. In the meantime, I hope to making blogging a more regular event here with both personal updates and interesting information about Mongolia. The biggest reason folks contact us through this blog is because there’s so little up to date info about Mongolia on the internet so I hope we can help out in that regard.

Cheers,

Small Town Life

Standard

Caleb is an English teacher who I know of from mutual friends in UB. Recently, he’s moved to a small town in Bayan Khongor to teach English in a more rural setting. If you’re curious what life outside of UB looks like, I recommend checking out his YouTube channel! He’s only just begun making videos, but I anticipate his channel being very informative as it develops.

Enjoy!