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?
*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!
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?
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!)
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.