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. 😉 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 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

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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! 🙂 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!

Popular Mongolian Dishes

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Another expat teacher shared this video on FB, and I thought it would be fun to share here. The only dish that we haven’t had is boodog, although it’s very similar to khorkhog (both are mentioned in the video). Enjoy!

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PS. At some point, we’ll have to upload pictures of our travels during the break, but that might be another few days!

Update: Yes we are still alive!

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I just realized how long it’s been since we updated the blog (two months?!) so I’m going to drop a couple of shorter updates in here to keep all y’all apprised of what’s been happening in our lives lately. 🙂

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First up: Thailand! We went to Chiang Mai, Thailand, again in late January/early February for our annual conference. Instead of going straight there, we took a brief detour through South Korea. Surprisingly, Incheon/Seoul felt way colder than UB even though it was significantly warmer. That’s the difference between a high desert climate and a marine climate, I guess! We made a local friend at the guesthouse where we were staying who showed us around and gave us some pretty great insights into Korean culture.

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Thailand was good for rest and professional development at the conference. We also were able to reconnect with a bunch of the teachers who went through training and orientation with us prior to moving overseas, and that was fun and encouraging. One of the highlights of the trip involved all of the fresh fruit and veggies that we could eat while there, which leads to the next update (a long time coming)…

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We are expecting! We found out at the beginning of October that we were expecting again, but considering how our first pregnancy had gone, we were hesitant to announce until we were 20 weeks along. We certainly intended to post something about this here sooner than now (29 weeks), but sometimes good intentions just fall by the wayside. The baby is due at the end of May, and the plan is to deliver locally at Intermed Hospital. My mom and Eric’s folks will be coming to visit us this summer (my mom flies in on the actual due date), and we are looking forward to seeing them and introducing them to both the new grandkid and to the city and country that we love.

 

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We have a few things coming up with our school, so we will post again when those happen. Next week, we will head out to the countryside with our school to go to camp so look for pics and such in the next couple of weeks!

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Traveling!

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Here are a few scattered photos from our trip to southern California. It was so much fun to see friends and family, especially since we don’t see extended family very often. If we missed you while in Cali, we are sorry! If you’d still like to catch up with us while we are in the same time zone, we’d love to chat/skype/etc. 🙂

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Now we are back up in Washington and looking forward to seeing more friends and family! Currently, we are with Eric’s cousins in his home town, and it’s lovely to see them again. This particular cousin lived with us a few years back, and we’ve very much enjoyed catching up and laughing. Laughter is good. ❤

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Tsagaan Sar

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