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  • Writer's pictureEnza Tours LLC

Traditional Mongolian food and drinks

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Mongolian food has changed in many ways since the MONGOL EMPIRE, but mutton and traditional dairy products remain at the heart of it. Food in Mongolia is traditionally divided into “white foods” (tsagaan idee), or DAIRY PRODUCTS, and “red foods” (Ulaan idee), or meat. White foods are the staple of the summer and red foods of the winter.

Traditional Mongolian foods in Tsagaan sar
Traditional Mongolian foods in Tsagaan sar

This division, however, takes account only of the most honoured foods and leaves out several important categories of food: various forms of grain, which even for a pure nomad supply much of the caloric intake, game, wild vegetables and herbs, wild fruits and berries, and salts for seasoning. Mongolian animals are slaughtered in a distinctive style.

The animal is thrown on its back, and its legs are held or, with powerful animals like the horse, tied. The butcher cuts a hole below the breast bone and suddenly reaches in and rips open the aorta, causing a catastrophic internal haemorrhage.

This slaughtering is aimed at keeping all the blood in the body, exactly the opposite aim of Jewish and Muslim slaughtering. The blood is scooped out after the organs are removed and used for sausages. Attempts to impose this slaughtering style in Muslim lands caused conflict in the empire period.

The Mongols were also notorious in the empire and later for eating animals that had died naturally or had been killed by wild animals.

What are the traditional Mongolian foods and drinks?

Mongolian cuisine is deeply rooted in the nomadic traditions of the country, with an emphasis on dairy products, meat, and animal fats. The harsh climate of Mongolia has influenced its traditional foods, which are hearty and designed to provide sustenance during long, cold winters. Here's an overview of traditional Mongolian foods and drinks:

Traditional Mongolian Foods:

  1. Khorkhog: A traditional Mongolian barbecue dish. Lamb or goat meat is cooked with hot stones inside a closed container, often with vegetables. The stones are heated until they're red-hot and then placed with the meat inside the container, cooking the meat with their heat.

  2. Boodog: Similar to Khorkhog but involves cooking an entire goat or marmot. The bones are removed, and the inside is filled with hot stones, which cook the meat from the inside out.

  3. Buuz: Mongolian dumplings filled with meat (usually mutton or beef) seasoned with onion or garlic. They are steamed and served during the Lunar New Year celebrations.

  4. Khuushuur: A deep-fried meat pastry. It's similar to Buuz but is fried instead of steamed.

  5. Tsuivan: A noodle dish typically made with mutton and various vegetables.

  6. Bansh: Small dumplings that are either boiled or deep-fried.

  7. Guriltai Shul: A noodle soup made with meat, typically mutton.

Traditional Mongolian Drinks:

  • Airag: A traditional fermented drink made from mare's milk. It's slightly sour and alcoholic. It's a popular drink during the summer months and is often served in a bowl.

  • Suutei Tsai: Mongolian milk tea made with water, milk, tea leaves, and salt. It's a staple drink and is often consumed throughout the day.

  • Arkhi: A distilled alcoholic beverage made from fermented mare's milk. It's stronger than Airag and is consumed in smaller quantities.

  • Tarak: A sour yogurt drink that's sometimes carbonated.

  • Byaslag: Mongolian cheese often eaten as a snack or with meals.

Mongolian cuisine is a reflection of its nomadic heritage, with a focus on using available resources. The dishes are simple yet flavorful, providing the necessary nutrients to endure the country's challenging climate. Whether you're sipping on a bowl of Suutei Tsai or enjoying a plate of Buuz, Mongolian food offers a unique and hearty culinary experience.


How to make traditional Mongolian food?

1. Buuz (Mongolian Dumplings):

Traditional Mongolian food - Buuz
Traditional Mongolian food - Buuz

Ingredients:

  • 500g mutton or beef (minced)

  • 1 onion (finely chopped)

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Dumpling wrappers (store-bought or homemade)

Instructions:

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the minced meat, chopped onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. Mix well.

2. Place a small amount of the meat mixture in the center of each dumpling wrapper.

3. Fold and pinch the edges of the wrapper to seal the filling inside, creating a crescent shape.

4. Steam the dumplings in a steamer for about 20-25 minutes or until cooked through.

5. Serve hot with soy sauce or chili sauce.


2. Tsuivan (Noodle Stew):

Traditional Mongolian Food
Traditional Mongolian Food - Tsuivan (Fried noodle stew)

Ingredients:

  • 500g mutton or beef (sliced into thin strips)

  • 2 onions (sliced)

  • 2-3 carrots (julienned)

  • 2 potatoes (cubed)

  • Handmade noodles or store-bought wide noodles

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Water or broth

  • Vegetable oil

Instructions:

1. In a large pot, heat some vegetable oil and sauté the onions until translucent.

2. Add the meat and brown it on all sides.

3. Add the carrots and potatoes, and stir well.

4. Pour in enough water or broth to cover the ingredients.

5. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer until the meat and vegetables are tender.

6. In a separate pot, boil the noodles until al dente, then drain.

7. Add the cooked noodles to the meat and vegetable mixture.

8. Season with salt and pepper, and let it simmer for another 5-10 minutes.

9. Serve hot.


3. Guriltai Shul (Noodle Soup):

Tradtional Mongolia food - Noodle soup
Tradtional Mongolia food - Noodle soup

Ingredients:

  • 500g mutton or beef (cut into small pieces)

  • 2 onions (sliced)

  • 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)

  • Handmade noodles or store-bought noodles

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Water or broth

  • Vegetable oil

  • Green onions (chopped, for garnish)

Instructions:

1. In a large pot, heat some vegetable oil and sauté the onions and garlic until fragrant.

2. Add the meat and brown it on all sides.

3. Pour in enough water or broth to cover the meat.

4. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer until the meat is tender.

5. In a separate pot, boil the noodles until al dente, then drain.

6. Add the cooked noodles to the soup.

7. Season with salt and pepper.

8. Garnish with chopped green onions.

9. Serve hot.

These traditional Mongolian dishes are hearty and flavorful, perfect for cold weather. Enjoy your cooking!


What is the daily traditional Mongolian food in the Mongol Empire?

Travellers to Mongolia in the 13th century observed that the Mongols lived primarily on KOUMISS, or fermented mare’s milk, during the summer and on mutton during the winter. Observers also noticed the importance of wild meat in the Mongolian diet. Animals hunted included rabbit, deer, wild boar, ibex, gazelle, and the kulan, or wild ass.

Muslim and Christian observers were particularly disgusted by the Mongols’ liking for wild rodents, such as hamsters, ground squirrels, and especially marmots. Large fish was also taken in the winter by ice fishing.


For essential occasions, meat was prepared by roasting on a spit with salt as the only seasoning. For daily meals, bones and meat were boiled together with seeds, grains, and wild onions and grasses to make a thick soup (shöl).

While the Mongols rarely slaughtered animals during the summer, they were always careful to preserve the flesh of animals that died naturally (again to the disgust of Christian and Muslim observers). This they did by cutting the meat into strips and drying them in the sun and wind.

This process, still common today, produces borts (jerky), which can be kept for several seasons. The intestines of horses would be made into sausages and eaten fresh. During the winter, sheep were the only domestic animal frequently slaughtered. Horses were slaughtered only on ritual occasions when a great feast was made.

Millet was also eaten boiled in gruel at least twice a day in winter. The millet was sometimes grown on the MONGOLIAN PLATEAU, sometimes received in tribute by noble-born Mongols, and sometimes bought by well-off commoners by selling sheep and skins to Uighur and Chinese peddlers.

Descriptions of mealtime etiquette exist only for roasted meat eaten among men of consequence. The meat was cut up into small pieces, and the order of eating was determined by the host. Pieces were served to the guests skewered on prongs.

Those in charge of cutting and presenting the food were the ba’urchis (stewards), belonging to the keshig, or imperial guards, and had a high position. It is likely that, as is reported of the Turks, different clans were assigned different parts of meat according to their prestige and that part of the ba’urchi’s role was to know these hierarchies.

Food was eaten with the fingers, and hands were wiped on clothes or grass. During the early empire, the most common imported foodstuff was liquor, both Chinese rice wine and Turkestani grape wine.

CHINGGIS KHAN first saw grape wine when it was presented to him in 1204 in tribute by a Mongol tribe env