Mongolian Rice Meal - ©

Expedition to Mongolia! – The Epitome Of Exotic!

So… Sister Erin has been researching different cuisines and challenging me to choose from dishes recommended by natives, or at least folks who’ve visited the places. Learning about their traditional foods may be one of the best ways to get to know new, exotic cultures…

Khorkhog– The ‘Mongolian BBQ’: Are you game to try horse meat and roasted marmot?

An advertising slogan for long distance telephone service used to go, “It’s the next best thing to being there!” Now-a-days, that would be Skyping, rather than just talking. Nevertheless, I maintain that learning about the limitlessly varied cuisines of the world’s far-flung places is probably very near the top of the list of methods for coming to know and understand the lives of others.

In that adventurous spirit, I will endeavor to take you on a thought-expedition today to Mongolia. We’ve all heard of the place; the extreme eastern and northern region of the Asian continent, adjacent to China – which has contributed many aspects of its traditions and foods.

The dining traditions of the famous wandering tribes of distant Mongolia have evolved in line with the foods that are available to eat and the methods available to cook them in that dry, cold domain. As you might expect,m the diet is heavy on meats and light on veggies. Tribal societies which are geared to moving around a lot aren’t all that skilled at, or interested in gardening…

The Mongolian Barbecue

There was once (and still may be, in some markets) a chain of open-grill restaurants named Mongolian Barbecue. No coincidence. The core menu items are focused on meat and dairy, with yak’s milk. Almost all the mains in the Mongolian national cookbook are cooked over an open fire. Some are formulated to be cooked in a metal or terracotta container while others are traditionally stewed or roasted on a grill – or even just a pile of clean, hot stones which are heated by a low fire or a field of coals below.

Mongolian ingredients

Some of the traditional Mongolian ingredients are all but unheard of in other cuisines: horse, yak, lamb and even camel are reportedly considered delicacies. Horse meat is particularly common on Mongolian menus. You can ride a horse, use it to haul your stuff, even shift your whole town to a new site when such a move becomes desirable – and use it as a weapon in war. After that, you hear a lot about yak and lamb. Yaks are used much like cattle in mainstream Mongolian culture – but you’re much more likely to milk them than eat them. They’re much too valuable just to fatten up and slaughter.

One more ingredient that appears in the top Mongolian dishes as nominated by online contributors: Marmot. That’s a ‘nice’ way of referring to Groundhogs and their far-flung kin – at least subspecies of which are native to Eastern Asia and the northern United States and Canada.

Veggies include onions, garlic, potatoes and peppers. Spices, which are sparingly available, are used sparingly.

On our menu today:

Korkhog: This hearty stew is cooked inside a pot over an open fire with carrots, onions, and potatoes. The specialty of this dish is that during cooking, smooth stones are placed in the container to foster the cooking process. The smoky flavor of the meat complements the bland taste of the vegetables.

Boodog: Whole marmot, with fillings of hot stones, onions, and potatoes inside it, so that it is cooked within its skin. Apart from goats, whole marmots are also used for this preparation. A very wholesome, authentic Mongolian dish, having a meaty aroma and flavor.

Tsuivan: Noodles cooked with pork or mutton and a dash of cabbage, onion, and carrots. The meatiness of the stew blends in with the unhampered flavor of the vegetables to create a unique taste.

Guriltai Shul: This traditional dish is basically mutton soup or stock served with noodles and veggies. The authentic recipe calls for fatty meat, though loin meat can also be used. The acidity of the soup, often prepared with curd made from yak’s milk, and the rawness of the mutton makes it a sinful soup course!

Budaatai khuurga: (See photo, top of page.) Rice cooked with shredded lamb or beef, onions, cabbage, carrots and bell pepper. This filling food that can be served both at lunch or dinner has a delightful piquancy to it.

Uuz: This ancient New Year’s specialty is composed of the lower fatty back and the tail of mutton or sheep, cooked in a steam chamber for three to five hours. This popular Mongolian dish, often served for special occasions, is succulent and savory.

Chanasan Makh: This popular breakfast dish is composed of chunks of mutton boiled in salted water It has a balanced sapidity, but can be made spicy by dipping in ketchup and sprinkling with pepper.

Buuz – ‘Mongolian Dumplings’: Flour dough, filled with shredded beef or lamb, cooked with onion, garlic and pepper, and then steamed. Quite similar to dumplings, however, more intense and a bit spicier.

Airag: This is considered the national drink of Mongolia and is made from mare’s milk. It’s fermented and served as a mild alcoholic beverage. Has a bit of a sour tang, but is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals.

Gambir: It’s simply flour dough filled with butter and sugar, cooked like a pancake and served with jelly or jam. The best part of this sinful dessert is that you can control the amount of sugar or jam you want. Chocolate or fruits can also be used as a topping, though simpler accompaniments are traditionally used.

Ul Boov – ‘The shoe sole cake’: A traditional specialty of Mongolian cuisine, these cakes are filled with sugar or cream, making them look like the sole of a shoe. As one bites into these, the soft texture yields a cream-filled center! Yum!

Boortsog – ‘The Mongolian Butter Cookie’: This Mongolian finger food is a version of the original butter cookie, served with more butter or honey. Crunchy and crusty, these are a hot favorite among both children and adults!

What did I tell you?

Almost as good as being there! Except, I couldn’t begin to imagine what freshly-roasted Marmot would taste like… I love the sound of the Boortsog and the Gambir! The ‘Shoe Sole Cake’ is absolutely fascinating; I can’t come up with an analogue to that in any other cuisine with which I am the least bit familiar!

BTW: If you haven’t guessed, the Korkhog: is the actual dish on which the idea of the ‘Mongolian Barbecue’ is based…


You don’t have to ride up on a horse, to an open fire on a dusty, northern plain – much less go marmot hunting – before you can enjoy your-world versions of the foregoing Mongolian specialties. Use your imagination to substitute conventional Western/European ingredients and their specialty meats and remember, the secret to Mongolian cooking is long-slow roasting, stewing and simmering…

Special thanks: To the folks at (recipes) and (suggestions)!

~ Maggie J.