Real Mongolian barbecue is known as khorkhog and is a staple across the vast reaches of this country. It is usually made with mutton, which is cooked inside a pot containing burning rocks heated in an open fire. Vegetables are added to make a stew and the flavors are left to blend for several hours. This is best enjoyed inside a Mongolian ger, where the food is served communally.
As with Khorkhog, Boodog is an example of Mongolian barbecue which also uses hot stones as a cooking method, but in this case the hot stones are not placed inside a pot, but are actually inserted into the carcass itself. The dish is usually made with either a young goat or more often a marmot, which is stuffed with heated rocks and a variety of vegetables and spices. It is then simultaneously heated from the outside, either on a barbecue or with a blowtorch to ensure it is cooked through and to burn off the animal’s fur. The dish is another example of a more pragmatic nomadic lifestyle in which cooking materials are not readily at hand and rocks and fire stand in for an oven. This dish can be experienced throughout Mongolia. It is best experienced out on the steppe where traditional cooking methods are preserved. Tour companies offer their guests a chance to try Boodog upon request.
It is believed that dried meat is what sustained the army of Chinggis Khan during his long military campaigns. Dried meat never lost its reputation and today families cook it occasionally as the “grandmother’s” soup. In the countryside, for nomadic herders who often move around, drying the meat is still a convenient way of storing their meat. It can come from any kind of meat: sheep, goat, cow and camel. When the meat is freshly cut in the fall, it is cut into strips and hung in a dry place for several weeks. The meat juice and ingredients are stored inside. When it is time to cook, the meat is beaten and ground up with a hammer. Then it is tossed into the soup just like meat. The soup is often minimal in content, just containing the noodles, onion and garlic, but really rich. When served hot, it is believed to be good for fatigue. In the Gobi, it is often cooked with rice and boiled in milk tea which is another delicacy for many Mongolians!
A boiled head of sheep or goat stirs a terrible image in one’s mind, but in addition to being the most budget meal you will find in UB it is also considered as a delicacy. Indeed, Mongolians often name boiled head as one of the home dishes they develop a craving for most when they live outside. It is first blowtorched thoroughly and washed. Then it is seasoned with salt and paper and boiled for 2-3 hours until it is soft and real tender. It is served along with various vegetables and is delicious! Almost no part is wasted and it is an ideal comfort food for many Mongolian families.
A local favorite, khuushuur is a popular lunch food like Buuz. It is made in a similar way like buuz except when the dough is stuffed with meat, it is flattened by hand, about one cm thick. Khuushuur is then deep fried in oil and are served like pancakes. It is believed that a good Mongolian chef can be judged by his or her skill in making khuushuur. If you are in Ulaanbaatar during the Naadam Festival, don’t miss out visiting one of the colorful “Khuushuur tents” where khuushuur is cooked in front of you and served fresh as the festival food. Both khuushuur and buuz can be stuffed with vegetable or fish, serving variety of plates of the guests.
There is no dispute that Mongolia is a country of dairy products. If meat is the main food item, milk is the main source of drink. There are literally hundreds of different types of dairy products developed over the years. Dairy products are often consumed as health food and road snacks. Milk and meat are the pillars of Mongolian cuisine. The national drink of the country is called airag, mare’s fermented milk. Airags are produced beginning in June and consumed throughout the summer months in most parts of the city. It is rich with vitamins and nutrition and also used as part of a healthy diet. Over the years, Mongolian nomads have developed a number of unique dairy products, which are made in traditional ways and include different types of yoghurt, cottage cheese, dried curds and fermented dairy products. Mongolian dairy products are rich with protein, carbohydrates, fat and essential minerals. The essential properties of the milk and dairy products do suggest using them as valuable local resources for human health, especially in nursing and health treatment practices.
Mongolia has one of the great tea cultures of Asia. Every morning, you can see herders boil their tea, offer to the spirits of the sky and ancestors, and then offer to the rest of the family. The most common tea is called milk tea. After water is boiled, a special tea imported either from China or Central Asia is added and when it boils, milk and salt are added. It is lighter than Tibetan butter tea and makes up an important diet of the Mongolian herders. In Mongolia, tea is also taken as food. In various parts of the country, herders add dried meat, rice and herbs, creating a delicious mixture, and consume this to sustain themselves through the harsh weather. A researcher actually identified over 68 types of tea brewed and consumed throughout Mongolia.
Fried liver is another important source of protein in Mongolia. Sheep or beef liver is often fried with fat and served with fried onion. The preferred way of cooking liver is to cook it half-done as they believe it preserves the nutritional value. In addition to the health benefit beliefs, it takes only 5-10 minutes to cook, the advantage often taken by the chefs.