Mongolian Food: Lunch & Dinner

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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! đŸ™‚ 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

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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

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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. đŸ™‚ My goal is to have posts on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

Hungrily,

Beth sig

Gandan

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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

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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

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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!

Day Bag Packing Suggestions – City

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If you’re reading this post, I’m guessing you’re either interested in our lives or interested in visiting Ulaanbaatar or Mongolia at some point. We don’t spend all of our days either teaching or parenting, so we’ve had plenty of time to figure out what are some good items to keep on hand–or leave at home–whenever we go out. Without further ado, here are our recommendations.

DO Bring:

  • Water – It’s very dry in Mongolia most of the year, and it’s easy to get dehydrated. If you finish your water while out, there are convenience stores everywhere that sell bottled water.
  • Cash – You can use bank cards in UB, but cash is far easier. Think ahead to how much you might need during your outing and try to stick to that amount only.
  • Small packets of tissues – Public restrooms sometimes have toilet paper, but more often than not, you will wish that you had something along that you can use. Remember to toss used tissues into the garbage cans in the toilet stalls and not down the toilets themselves.
  • Photo-taking device – Whether it’s a camera or a cellphone (or tablet), you’ll probably want to take photos or videos while you’re exploring the city. If you want to take a photo of a person, however, ask if it’s ok first. (“Bowl-kho” is a rough phonetic transliteration of asking, “May I?” in Mongolian.)
  • Hat or sunscreen – UB has a relatively high elevation and also has pretty clear skies most of the year so sunburn and other invisible sun damage.
  • A form of ID – We’ve never been approached by police, but this is just a good rule of thumb wherever you travel.
  • An open mind – Be aware that you might not understand underlying motivations of actions around you. (This isn’t meant in a negative/cynical way, just a reminder that you’re no longer in the majority culture as a visitor.)
  • A sense of adventure – You never know what might happen!
  • Common sense – Is a shady dude trying to make you a shady deal in a shady alleyway? Use your noggin.

Suggested items:

  • Lip balm – Again, it’s dry here, especially with the wind. If your lips are prone to chapping, carry lip balm with you. Just be mindful of exceedingly dusty days as you may not want grit sticking to your lips.
  • Simple snacks – Ok, you can also get this in convenience stores when out, but especially if you have any particular dietary needs/preferences, it’s good to keep something quick on hand to tide you over until you can find something else.
  • Hand sanitizer or wet wipes – Public restrooms don’t always have soap so you might want hand san “handy”, especially if you’re germaphobic.
  • Light jacket/compact umbrella/hat – Weather can be unpredictable.

Do NOT Bring:

  • Wads of cash – Pickpocketing is too common. Don’t bring so much money with you that you’ll be in a bind if it gets stolen while you’re out.
  • Headphones – As mentioned a time or two above, pickpocketing is a problem in UB. Listening to music while you’re out and about will hinder your ability to notice if anyone is targeting you.
  • A bad attitude – Whether it’s a sense of superiority, entitlement, whatever, just leave it at home. đŸ˜‰