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. 🙂 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!

Outhouse Wolves and Other Stories

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A couple of weekends ago, we headed west of UB with some colleagues from our school to spend the night in the countryside with a herding family. The connection to this family was that the patriarch was the brother of the husband of one of our school’s headmasters, which was great for a couple of reasons. 1) It wasn’t a tourist camp so we had a more authentic experience, and 2) because we were connected, it didn’t feel like we were with total strangers. Our host family was so friendly and hospitable, and we had a great time!

 

crunchyside map

TBH, I’m not exactly sure where we stayed–as is the nature of traveling cross country to an impermanent settlement–but it was somewhere in or around the orange circle on the map. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

What was neat about this particular location was that it held a variety of landscapes. We stayed in gers on the steppe, but we were surrounded by mountains and about a 30 minute walk away from where we stayed was a large stretch of sand, including quite a few dunes. We were told this stretch of sand runs from the Gobi up to Lake Khuvsgul in the north. So in a way, we visited the Gobi. 😉

Camels:

crunchyside camelsCamels are one of the five key livestock kept by Mongolian nomads. (The others are horses, cows, sheep, and goats.) The Bactrian camel is native to Central Asia, and they are helpful beasts of burden in addition to providing wool for textiles and milk for dairy products. As you can see in these photos, the camels our host family had were in the process of shedding their thick winter coats and were semi-balding. There were camels that we used for riding, and other camels that were not–mamas and babies. One of the baby camels had been attacked by a wolf recently, so one of its hind legs was wounded. The family had been giving it antibiotics. The morning of our second day, that baby camel was on its feet and nursing. It was certainly favoring the wounded leg, but there’s hope for a full recovery!

Our ride took us a half hour out from camp to the stretch of Gobi sand (then back another half hour). The camels liked crowding each other as we rode, so I have some pretty gnarly bruises above my right ankle from when my camel crushed my leg into the neighboring camel’s metal stirrup, but there was no bolting, biting, or spitting, so I’d count that ride as a win. 😉 On our return walk/ride, one of our colleagues sang us a traditional Mongolian long song. He grew up in the countryside–not the city–so for him, being back where he grew up is always relaxing and nostalgic.

Good Eats:

crunchyside food

One thing that happens whenever we spend extended time with Mongolians is that we eat so. much. food. Personally, I can’t complain because I love eating, but some foreigners feel overwhelmed by how much food they are offered and don’t know if it’s ok to turn it down. (It is, but be nice about it and try to eat something!)

Our hosts served us a variety of traditional foods, including milk tea, khuushuur, and khorkhog. Khuushuur are fried meat pies. Some of the khuushuur were stuffed with mutton, and others were stuffed with “sheep stomach” (which tasted like minced organ meats, and not just tripe). That picture of Z eating a khuushuur in the top left? Sheep stomach! He was also interested in watching the frying process. The top right photo shows how the khorkhog was prepared. One sheep was butchered and the meat and bones were layered with minced onion, hot rocks from the stove, salt, potatoes, and carrots in a giant metal bowl with water on the bottom. The whole thing was covered and cooked for about an hour, turning into the most delectable meal.

In the morning, we had leftover mutton from the khorkhog, boortsog, more milk tea, coffee (!), rice porridge, and fry bread. Sadly, I wasn’t in the ger when they made the dough for the fry bread, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to recreate it at home, but I am definitely interested in trying. Delicious delicious food!

Countryside Living:

crunchyside Zach

When we first got to where we stayed over the weekend, Z was fairly shy, but he warmed up and ended up quite sad when we left. He was particularly enamored with the kids and lambs that stayed around the gers, and very much enjoyed chasing them. I don’t think they minded much, but I did worry that their mothers would be less than thrilled.

I don’t like to be the type of mother who hovers over her children, but there were a number of concerns that I had to balance while we were out of our normal. Z is not around animals enough here in UB to know that some animals are safe and some are not, so I had to corral him away from some of the livestock–like the overprotective camel mama whose baby had been attacked. She was a mama on a mission. I was also worried that Z would wander into the outhouse, which wasn’t deep, but also had no door on it and was exposed on one side and the top to the elements. I don’t know about you, but I’m not keen on fishing my toddler out of a toilet. 😉

Wolf

What I pictured happening to me.

Speaking of toilets, I needed to use it during the night. I had somewhat seriously told Eric as we got ready for bed that if I needed to pee before daybreak, I would just pee in one of the unused diapers we had brought along rather than go outside at night because of the wolves. (Ok, maybe just wolf–singular–but apex predator I am not.) Around 3:30am, well, I needed to go, and Eric (who was also awake) convinced me that I shouldn’t use a diaper for my bathroom break. I was still hesitant to use the outhouse–WOLVES, people!–but I decided maybe I could just pee behind the ger. I didn’t want to bring my phone for its flashlight because it’s hard enough to pee outside without peeing all over yourself in a squat without also having to juggle a light source. Anyway, once outside, I realized the moon was bright enough to cast shadows so I opted to use the outhouse. I know, I know. All that fuss for nothing. I was thankful for not needing a flashlight for that trip though because I have a record of losing items down outhouses. (RIP first Fitbit.) For the record, I squatted facing out so that if a wolf decided to take me down while in the outhouse, I’d at least see it coming and know my fate. My tombstone would have read: Here lies Bethany. Dead from outhouse wolves.

People:

crunchyside Talitha

We are just so flippin’ blessed to have the relationships that we do with Mongolians. Over the years, we’ve worked alongside educators, administrators, students, business folk, and more. Our children have been loved by all. We’ve written numerous recommendation letters, proofread so many essays and applications, and coached and encouraged and been coached and encouraged in return. Mongolian doctors have delivered both of our babies and been invested in their growth. Whenever folks ask me what my favorite part of living in Mongolia is, I tell them it’s the people, and this weekend reminded me again as to why.

Beth sig

PS. I had the bulk of this post written the night we came back from the countryside, but then things got really crazy so I only just finished wrapping it up.

New year, new baby

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For readers of this blog who do not know us in person, this may come as a shock to many of you, but we recently welcomed our second baby into the world. I had every intention of posting a pregnancy announcement on here around the same time as we announced on FB and other social media, but…I majorly slacked off on the blog for quite a few months so that just didn’t happen. Regardless, we have another kiddo!

Also born at Intermed Hospital in UB (which I’ve mentioned a number of times in the past), T joined us on December 22 at 3:40pm local time. She is healthy, keeping up her weight, and a joy to us and those who have visited us in the hospital and at home. (If you’re curious about Mongolian traditions surrounding childhood, you should check out this post from when Z was born in May 2016.) I’m recovering well from labor and delivery, and Z is handling a younger sibling pretty darn well. My folks came to help out with the transition from one kid to two–and of course to meet their second grandchild–which has been very helpful indeed.

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How you bundle a newborn in winter in the frozen north:

For the most part, we’ve kept T indoors as much as possible because it’s the middle of winter and besides the cold, the air pollution is too much for a newborn’s lungs to handle. In fact, this winter the pollution has been bad enough for the government to decide to shut down schools for the month of January. Hospitals are full of sick kids, and since pollution is worst during morning and afternoon/evening commute times, it makes sense to shut down schools to keep kids indoors at peak pollution times. If we do go outdoors, it’s primarily in the early afternoon once Z’s up from his nap, when it’s warmest outside and there’s the least amount of pollution.

I have some more ideas for posts percolating on the back burner so hopefully I’ll be posting more regularly in 2018, but with two kids under two years old, there’s no guarantee of anything! We’ll see. 🙂

Shine onii mend! Happy new year!

Beth sig

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!

Beth sig

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

I miss Safeway.

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**I feel like it would be easy to misinterpret the intention behind this post, so I want to clarify that this post isn’t meant as a complaint but as an illustration of a challenge and an adjustment for an American living abroad.**

Because I grew up overseas in several developing nations, I was used to the necessity of shopping around to get all of the household goods. Or at least, that’s what I thought I was used to before moving to UB and realizing how little I understood what my parents actually went through to keep food in the house. See, by “used to the necessity of shopping around”, I mean, I knew that’s what my folks did, but I rarely participated in those shopping trips because I deemed them boring and just wanted to stay home and read a book. Let’s be honest, I still find shopping boring and would rather stay home and read a book.

As an adult, the only shopping I was used to was going to Safeway or Albertsons or whatever big name carry-all grocery store was closest, loading up on everything I needed in one trip, filling my car trunk, and going home with enough supplies to last for several weeks at a time. Here in UB, I’ve had to adjust my grocery shopping paradigm. For starters, we don’t have a car, so I can only buy what I can physically carry. Every time we go somewhere, I try to think of what else we can do in the relative area of where we are going (or what we can accomplish on the way) to help cut down on trips. Otherwise, I could easily be gradually purchasing throughout the week and would never feel “done” with grocery shopping. Factor in carrying a baby (in a snowsuit, he no longer fits in the baby carrier), and shopping becomes a bit of a challenge! Fortunately for me, when we have students over, I can usually convince them to come with me so we can bring home more at one time, rewarding them with food and chocolate. (You know who you are, and I thank you so much!!!) Also fortunately, our neighborhood grocery is well-stocked with the basics, and is about a five minute walk from our apartment.

However, to get the best deals on different products often involves shopping around at different markets. A meat market, for instance, is going to be cheaper than purchasing meat in my neighborhood grocery, and I can find meat for a wide variety of prices depending on where I go. The best deals on different products might be found through a friend who knows a guy who sells something out of the back of his truck. (Totally not as shady as it sounds!) A friend of mine connected me with a guy who sells Japanese diapers in bulk for cheaper than what we can find in any store so I get diapers delivered–handy, especially in winter!

One of the interesting things about household products and groceries here is that they come from all over the place. Sure, there are the expensive American import stores full of Skippy peanut butter and Starbucks coffee beans that go for $90 for a few pounds, but in our neighborhood grocery, we have stuff from Korea, China, Russia, Germany, Mongolia (duh), Kazakhstan, Poland, Hungary, and so much more! I’ll include some pics from our neighborhood grocery to give you an idea of what a basic supermarket holds. 🙂

Eggs typically come in a carton of 10, not a dozen, although you can find both. Alternately, you can buy eggs in singles (recycle an old carton for this task or use a produce bag) or as many as you want. A single egg at our grocery store costs 320mnt, which is like 10 cents. The bags above are local yogurt–delicious!

The instant noodle aisle is full of wonders to behold! Step aside, Top Ramen, you’ve been replaced by so many more delicious noodles!

This the cured/processed meat section. There is something similar to summer sausage available most places that’s both cheap and easy to incorporate into meals.

As an example of household goods, I wanted to include this image to show the variety of countries that source products here.

Produce doesn’t have the same regulations that it does in the US, which means your onions are not going to be uniform sizes. (Honestly, who really cares about that anyway?)

You might find American products with different flavors.

Case in point. ^_^

So that’s an idea of what it’s like to go grocery shopping here. They opened an Emart (Korean store similar to American Target or Walmart) at the start of the school year, but I have yet to go because I’ve heard that it’s super busy all of the time. Also, I still don’t have a car so it’s not really worth it to me to make the trek. I’ve heard that they might open another Emart that’s closer to us, but I’m not sure how much truth there is behind that rumor.