What about COVID-19?

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Mongolia and China are neighbors, so it’s natural to wonder if the recent Wuhan coronavirus (henceforth COVID-19) outbreak has spread north. Well, so far, there’s no evidence that COVID-19 has reached Mongolia at all. As soon as the outbreak began hitting news cycles, the Mongolian government shut down everything they could to keep the virus from spreading.

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This is what’s happened so far:

  • Schools were already shut down/in quarantine mode in January due to pre-existing winter illnesses. (Hospitals were filling up with children and the elderly, so keeping people at home helps cut back on spreading illness.)
  • All land borders were shut down, preventing both people and goods from coming or going through China.
  • Flights into the country are heavily monitored before travelers disembark to ensure that those entering the country through air travel aren’t bringing anything in with them.
  • Schools were then shut down until March.
  • Religious activities and other types of gatherings were forbidden.
  • Schools were then shut down until April.
  • Once COVID-19 showed up in South Korea, flights from SK were canceled. (Or heavily monitored as well?)*

So how does this effect society? Well, a lot of people are still teaching via the internet, and I think folks are going a little stir crazy. We are not currently in Asia, so we aren’t experiencing any of the above restrictions; however, we are in one of the US states where there have been several deaths from the virus, so it will be interesting to see how or if things start changing here to reflect Mongolia’s approach. Noteworthy: so far there are still zero cases of COVID-19 in Mongolia that I know of.*

Now I’m going to go wash my hands thoroughly.

Beth sig

*I get a lot of my news through second or third-hand reporting as I am not fluent enough in Mongolian to read Mongolian news sources myself.

Mongolian Food: Snacks & Other

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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. šŸ˜‰ 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:

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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 likeĀ boov andĀ 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

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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! šŸ™‚ 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?

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*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, boovĀ (pronouncedĀ “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). HardenedĀ 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) andĀ 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!)

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

Hungrily,

Beth sig

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!