Mongolia is famous for its vast grasslands, cultural heritage, and of course, hearty Mongolian food. It is actually the largest landlocked country after Kazakhstan.
Many might not know that Mongolia is much larger than popular destinations like France. However, the country only inhabits about 3 million people, of which 50% habitat in the capital city, Ulaanbaatar. However, Mongolian cuisine reflects both the modern and historic aspects of the people’s lifestyle.
What Is Special About Mongolian Food?
Mongolian food is flavorful and hearty. Meat, animal fats, and dairy products dominate traditional Mongolian food. It uses limited vegetables and spices, while drawing huge influence from Russian and Chinese cuisine.
In rural areas, people prefer cooked mutton without any additional ingredients. Some side dishes like vegetables and flour products accompany the meat. But finding a lot of vegetarian dishes in this country is a real struggle.
Alcoholic beverages in Mongolian cuisine are very common. In fact, vodka is the most popular alcoholic drink, dominating 30% of the beverage market.
The following are some of the traditional Mongolian food you have to try during your visit to Mongolia.
Most Popular Mongolian Food
Buuz (Steamed Meat Dumplings)
This national dish of Mongolia is a typical delight for new year celebrations and is mostly enjoyed with ketchup. However, it is so common day-to-day that you can see a sign saying “buuz” in every other shop in Mongolian markets.
Buuz is a steamed, meat-based dish, featuring a sphere dumpling with a hole on top. The perfectly round shape makes it very appealing and desirable, but the visuals are just the beginning.
These Mongolian snacks are packed with a delicious filling of beef or mutton. If you get a good one, there might even be a squirt of delish juice when you bite into it.
In Mongolia, these flavourful meat pockets are enjoyed on their own but served as a starter internationally. While steamed dumplings are super popular, the fried and boiled versions are also irresistible.
You might have tried Mongolian chicken before in China or the United States. To our surprise, this tender and juicy chicken is not originally from Mongolia. None of the ingredients or preparation techniques are from Mongolia.
Despite the popularity of Mongolian beef and lamb dishes, Mongolian chicken takes it to another level internationally. The succulent Chinese-American dish is an adapted version of Mongolian beef. The chicken breast is fried into crispy slices and a sweet and tangy sauce is added.
You can find it in big cities where it is served with steamed rice or noodles.
Mongolian Lamb And Mutton Dishes In Mongolian Food
Khorkhog (Mongolian Barbecued Lamb)
Barbeque lovers step ahead because our next Mongolian food is a delicious barbeque dish. It was invented by nomads and has now become a popular dish in Mongolian cuisine.
The dish is made with meat chunks and veggies. But what’s special is the unique preparation. All the ingredients are cooked in a milk can under high heat pressure, with stones all around.
This Mongolian barbeque dish delivers a rich smoky flavor that’s hard to defy. It is a perfect food when you crave barbecue in Mongolia.
Uuts (Sheep Back And Tail)
This may seem like a rather peculiar food in Mongolia made with specific sheep parts. However, Uut is actually one of the famous Mongolian foods locally. In fact, it is a significant part of traditional Mongolian holidays, parties, and celebrations.
Uuts include a whole sheep rump boiled or steamed along with the tail. The locals usually try to choose a sheep with a big tail for this dish. It is because a big tail represents wealth and prosperity.
Moreover, the bigger the tail, the more delicious it will be. While it might some weird, you should give this traditional food in Mongolia a try if you get the chance.
Boodog (Barbequed Goat Or Marmot)
Boodog is another delicious treat for barbeque lovers. But rather than beef, this is a barbequed goat or tarbagan marmot (giant rodent/squirrel) that is seasoned with spices. It also includes some veggies such as potatoes and onions.
This Mongolian food is cooked with heated stones in an animal stomach or sealed milk can. If you are trying this food in the fall, you might get a marmot. Otherwise, it is mostly prepared with goat meat.
This traditional Mongolian food is a feast for special occasions. You can find it at restaurants, and those in Ulaanbaatar are highly recommended for this dish.
Mongolian Beef Dishes
Sharsan Uhriin Mah (Fried Beef With Rice)
Most traditional Mongolian dishes are simply a combination of staples, just like sharsan uhriin mah. This Mongolian food consists of fried beef and rice.
But don’t let its simplicity fool you. The beef has a strong meaty flavor that satisfies your stomach and soul. It comes with big chunks of fat that are no less than a feast for fat lovers.
As it is a well-loved dish, you can find it in almost all small eateries. Locals enjoy this Mongolian beef without any greens, but some restaurants offer cucumbers and other veggies if you ask.
Noodles In Mongolian Food
Tsuivan (Mongolian Noodles With Meat And Vegetables)
Tsuivan is essentially Mongolian noodles packed with a variety of flavors. It is a hearty dish that you might crave after eating once.
This Mongolian food includes diced mutton or beef with flat noodles and a bit of spice. Some places also add a variety of veggies but it is rare. The creamy, salty, and meaty flavor blends well with the noodles to tickle your taste buds.
This Mongolian noodles dish is served fresh, sprinkled with scallions. The restaurant in the Chinggis Khaan Statue complex is a popular place to try one of the best-tasting Tsuivan.
Guriltai Shul (Mongolian Noodle Soup)
Guriltai Shul is another traditional food of Mongolia that locals like to enjoy every day. It is also known by the name Lavsha. The mouthwatering dish is a significant part of the cuisine of Mongolia.
While Tsuivan is primarily stir-fried, This dish is a soup-based Mongolian food that includes noodles. Similarly, the traditional version does not include veggies. But some chefs like to add some vegetables to make it more delightful.
The best part though, has to be the rich soup. This warm broth has a fatty taste perfect to enjoy on a winter morning. It is mostly served topped with meat chunks.
Popular Mongolian Rice Dishes
Budaatai Khuurga (Mongolian Fried Rice)
Budaatai khuurga is a delicious Mongolian fried rice dish. It is one of the most satisfying and fulfilling foods in Mongolia. This dish is similar to Tsuivan but noodles are substituted with rice.
This Mongolian rice dish includes shredded lamb or beef with several veggies and spices. All the ingredients are combined to make a flavourful feast. It also delivers a pleasing aroma of chili and cumin.
Locals enjoy this fried rice dish both at lunch and dinner. You might need to roam around to find a restaurant serving this dish, as it is not as commonly available.
Soups In Mongolian Food
Bituu Shul (Meat Soup)
Bituu Shul, also known as “Mongolian miracle soup” is a traditional Mongolian meat soup. It is believed to increase strength and eliminate any fatigue, as it is highly nutritious. Locals also consider it a remedy for cold and weak immune systems during winter.
The soup contains garlic, onions, and lamb. All the soup ingredients are put in an animal gut and then cooked in water. Nowadays, most Mongolian restaurants cook this soup in a completely sealed bowl using flour.
Bantan (Flour Soup)
Bantan is another Mongolian meat soup that comes with dough lumps. It is a thick and creamy porridge-like soup containing meat broth, spring onions, meat pieces, and flour lumps. This flour gives the desired consistency to the soup.
Depending on the meat quality, you will get the lowest fat content in this soup than any other Mongolian food. It is so light and nourishing that some mothers give this soup to babies as their first semi-solid food. You can even use it to cure hangovers and some locals see it as a light, relief meal after food poisoning.
Snacks And Light Dishes In Mongolian Food
Khuushuur (Fried Meat Dumpling)
Khuushuur is a delicious and famous Mongolian snack. These are meat-based dumplings; some people call them savory meat pastries.
The pocket-shaped dough is packed with delicious grounded mutton or camel meat. The meat is mixed with onion, salt, and other Mongolian spices. The dumplings are served hot with sauce or ketchup.
Khuushuur is similar to the famous Mongolian Buzz in its filling and dough. The only difference is that the dumplings are fried instead of steamed. As they are very popular in Mongolia, therefore available in almost every Mongolian restaurant.
Aaruul (Sour Milk Cheese)
Aaruul is bite-size pieces of sour milk cheese. It might taste peculiar to some if you are not used to it, but evidently, it is one of the best traditional Mongolian snacks. You can even find the sweeter version of aaruul in many local eateries.
This delicious snack is prepared from boiled yogurt. The locals collect the yogurt in a container or churn and then cook it on low flame. Lower heat level and constant stirring make it like a curd.
Locals in Mongolia like to snack on pieces of aaruul as a quick solution to hunger. Some prefer to drink these melted cheese pieces in water. The taste of aaruul mostly depends on the milk used for its preparation.
Hohhot Shumai (Inner Mongolian Dumplings)
Hohhot shumai are also little dumplings you can find in Mongolian restaurants. They may seem like the ones that are a staple of Chinese cuisine (served as dim sum), but they originated in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia.
Hohhot Shumai only contains one kind of filling, including minced or chopped mutton, ginger, and scallion. The extensive use of ginger and scallion gives these Mongolian snacks a spicy taste. The steaming hot stuffing is served wrapped in a thin, round unleavened dough.
The fun part about this Mongolian food is its appearance. The edges of the wrapping are gathered, forming a pleated border and making a flower-like appearance. As these dumplings are very greasy, don’t forget to enjoy them with vinegar and tea.
Niislel Salad (Mongolian Potato Salad)
Niislel is a traditional Mongolian food popular among the locals. You might know it by the name Russian potato salad. This dish is just like an Olivier salad introduced as Niislel salad during the Soviet period.
The dish has become a popular vegetable treat in various ex-soviet countries. In Mongolia, it is eaten nationwide, especially during festive events. You often see it at the New Year’s Eve dinner feast.
This Mongolian food contains minced ham, boiled eggs, carrots, and potatoes. All the ingredients are seasoned with a generous amount of mayonnaise and a bit of salt. You can enjoy it with steamed dumplings.
Desserts And Pastries In Mongolian Cuisine
Heviin Boov Or Ui Boov (Shoe Sole Cake)
Unique even amongst Mongolian desserts, this is a sweet cake with which most of the world is unfamiliar. Ui boov is a cultural and traditional food in Mongolia. It is known as a sole shoe cake as it is imprinted with specific family designs using a wooden block.
This is a kind of biscuit assembled in layers to form a cake. The number of layers of biscuits in the cake shows the high family status. Finally, the biscuits are topped with sugar cubes and candies.
The toppings give it a beautiful and tasty look. The Mongolians believe that this cake has spiritual values. Therefore it is mostly served at new year celebrations and weddings.
Boortsog (Mongolian Butter Cookies)
Boortsog is a delicious Mongolian butter cookie. This fried dough food is also commonly eaten in Central Asia and the Middle East. The cookies are fried therefore some people also consider them doughnuts.
These Mongolian cookies have a triangular or round shape. The dough is made from flour, yeast, milk, eggs, and butter. It is given a crisscross pattern on top before frying.
This Mongolian food is often served as a dessert drizzled with sweet syrup, honey, or jam. Some Mongolian and Turkish people like to enjoy it dipped in tea.
Iconic Drinks In Mongolian Foods
Suutei Tsai (Mongolian Salty Tea)
Suutei tsai is a traditional salted beverage of Mongolian cuisine. It has a savory and tangy taste. Locals enjoy it throughout the day with almost every meal.
Although it is a favorite snack of the natives, most foreigners find it unusual. It is because of its salty taste. Still, we recommend to give a try and discover this hearty beverage.
The drink is traditionally made with water, milk, tea leaves, and salt and served with toasted millet. Some people use green tea, while others prefer black tea. You can enjoy it straight with fried Mongolian snacks or anything you like.
Airag (Fermented Mare Milk)
Airag is undoubtedly the best traditional beverage in the cuisine of Mongolia. It is basically fermented mare milk, which can be unusual for you if you haven’t tried it before.
The fermented milk is mixed and beaten with a year-old ferment in a big cow skin bag. Airag has an acidic taste with a very refreshing quality. It also contains about 2 to 3% alcohol.
Mongolians drink airag in greater quantities during a traditional festival, Naadam. Thus, the preparation for this local drink starts in June.
Visit Mongolia during summer to celebrate this festival and enjoy the traditional food of Mongolia. If you are offered airag, always take the cup with your right hand. Use your left hand to hold your right elbow, wrist, or hand when they pour the drink.
Chatsarganii Shuus (Sea-buckthorn Juice)
Chatsarganii shuus is the juice of sea-buckthorn berries. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the favorite juice of most Mongolians. It can be served both cold or hot and is considered the orange-gold of Mongolia.
The sea-buckthorn berries are boiled in water and consumed in juices or tea. This drink in Mongolian cuisine is rich in vitamin C, approximately 8 times more than a kiwi. So it would be a great way to stay refreshed during hot summer days.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Discovering Traditional Mongolian Food
The strong continental climate has a big influence on Mongolian food. Sheep, horse, and cow meat are prevalent here. Whether it is meat, milk, or fat, Mongolians utilize everything that they can get from these animals.
You will only find a few vegetarian dishes or spicy food. Since meat is the king of Mongolian cuisine, it is more challenging to follow a vegetarian diet. On the contrary, that is one of the exciting facts about Mongolia for meat lovers; they will certainly find lots to explore in the Mongolian food scene.