Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

About Mongolian Food

Chopstick Cinema

This Week's Film: Mongol
Cuisine: Mongolian

Mongolia is a nation of nomadic herders known as the land of five animals: sheep, goats, cattle, horses, and camels. Life on the vast steppes of Mongolia is harsh and demanding. Family life centers around the yurt, a large, round tent supported by strong wooden poles, vented at the top, with a hearth in the center of the interior for warmth and food preparation.

The basic philosophy of Mongolian cuisine is meat, meat, meat...except in the summers, when it's dairy, dairy, and more dairy. The livestock primarily used for consumption are mutton and beef. In the larger cities, butcher shops sell various cuts of beef, including hamburger, sausages, and hot dogs, along with chicken, although poultry is not popular. In the rural areas, local butchers also offer mutton, yak, horsemeat, beef, and camel. Marmot is another rural delicacy, and is often cooked using heated river stones placed inside the evicerated carcass. And reindeer are indigenous to the northernmost regions.

Dairy products include fresh milk, butter, curds, sour milk, fermented milk, yogurt, dried cheese from cows, mares, and camels, and a snack food called aaruul, made from dried milk curds. Sour cream and eggs are available in larger cities, and since milk and cream are not pasteurized, they must be boiled before drinking. Dairy products are typically consumed during the summer months, while meat is eaten during the winter months when the weather is cold enough to freeze it outdoors, although it must be protected from dogs and wolves. Meat is also made into sausages and jerky, and when cooking fuel is scarce, meat may even be eaten raw.

Although fish are also indigenous to Mongolian waters, they are not popular for human consumption except under the most dire of circumstances. However, in the larger cities, canned meat, canned crabmeat, and canned salmon from Russia are also available.

Indigenous vegetables are limited to hardy, wild varieties such as onions, leeks and wild greens. Fruits include wild apples and cherries, juniper berries, hazelnuts, and pine nuts. Wheat is cultivated in some regions, and imported or locallly grown agricultural products include potatoes, cabbages, onions, garlic, tangerines, apples, cauliflower, radishes, beets, tomatoes, cucumbers, and even bananas and and kumkwats, but they are typically only available in larger cities. Some vegetables are preserved by pickling, and Mongolian seasonings are limited to chili peppers, salt and garlic.

Locally made bread and pasta are available in larger cities. But the main dishes made from flour are bordzig, a soft, deep-fried bread, and several types of dumplings, variously called buuz, booz, pooz and shaomai, which resemble pot stickers, Japanese gyoza, Tibetan momo, and Chinese siu mai. They may be steamed or fried.

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