The Mongols may have done a lot of conquering, but they didn’t develop a handy trick that the British would later employ to devastating effect: invading nations and stealing their best food. Whereas the British Empire evolved from boiled potatoes to chicken tikka masalas, the Mongols stuck with the tried-and-test staples of Mongolian cuisine, chiefly mutton. Lots and lots of mutton.
Having recently led our inaugural tour to Mongolia, we are now basically experts on the whole country, including Mongolian cuisine. Here are the seven best foods/drinks we encountered.
If you’ve a passing acquaintance with Chinese food, then there’s a good chance you’ve heard of baozi: steamed buns filled with meat or vegetables (or, if you’re really unlucky, some weird flavourless noodle variant).
Mongolians have more or less the same thing, but they don’t go in for namby-pamby things like ‘vegetables’ or ‘nutritional variety’. Mongolian buuz can have any filling you like, as long as it’s mutton.
“So I’ve tried buuz,” you’re saying, “and whilst it’s good, I feel like it’s not raising my cholesterol levels sufficiently. Is there any way we can make this happen?”
Mongolia hears you, hypothetical reader, and is here to help. Enter the khuushuur: basically a bigger buuz, but deep-fried (probably in mutton fat).
5. Mutton broth
You’re probably getting a bit bored of mutton now, but Mongolia sees you coming and is ready for your whimsical, high-maintenance palate: have you tried boiled mutton in mutton-fat broth? Your move, Gordon Ramsay.
4. Qurut: dried cheese curd
Even Mongolians occasionally have enough of mutton, but luckily they also have another food group: dairy. This is largely limited to milk, cheese, and another horrific product that we’ll get to later. Qurut is one such product: milk curds that have been left outside to harden into some sort of weird sour-sweet biscuit-type thing. This is as close to dessert as it gets.
3. Mutton BBQ
After the lofty, rarefied standards of the previous dishes, we’re bringing it back down to a simpler place with this: chunks of mutton and mutton fat on a stick.
The Mongolians like a bit of variety in their diet, which is why they sometimes go crazy and break from tradition with this fried noodle dish. With mutton, obviously.
After such an eclectic smorgasbord of fine Mongolian cuisine, you’re naturally going to need something to wash it down. But what? Beer, tea and water are for tourists, obviously – probably the kind that go to McDonald’s and Starbucks. If you want the real Mongolian experience, you’re gonna want airag – fermented mare’s milk.
And how does airag taste? You know how when you throw up particularly violently you end up with a bit of sick trapped in your nose and you have to blow your nose to clear it?
That’s how airag tastes, friends and neighbours. Like hangover nose sick. You’re welcome.
Experience the rich and varied world of Mongolian cuisine yourself on our next tour there!