After a few days in Ulaanbaatar and eating Western food, we finally got to try something authentically Mongolian. No, not the Mongolian BBQ that we used to get at Genghis Khan restaurant in Singapore.
Say Mongolian food and the first thing that comes to mind is the Mongolian BBQ. Who doesn’t love a 20-foot, all-you-can-eat buffet filled with raw meat, fresh veggies, and concoct-your-own sauce? Add the excitement of a wannabe-ninja chef cooking on a sizzling flat top grill with shiny three-foot tongs, and you’ve got a fun and tasty dining experience. No, that’s not authentic Mongolian BBQ, but a fantasised cuisine invented by a Taiwanese who had never stepped foot in Mongolia.
Traditional Mongolian Food
Traditional Mongolian food is based on a diet of survival. With seven months of the year locked in brutal winter, the diet reflects what is available seasonally and what is needed for the body to survive harsh conditions. And nothing is wasted, including the head of the animals.
While most would think that the chain restaurant Modern Nomads is touristy, but this is one of the few traditional Mongolian restaurant in Ulaanbaatar.
Bread is not a staple of Mongolians and is introduced by the Russian. But butter is something that has been part of the Mongolian diet for the longest time. Tsotgii (Cream) is the traditional cream from cow, sheep or goat milk, and used by Mongolians as butter.
Traditional Mongolian Milk Tea – Сүүтэй Цай (Süütei tsai)
Süütei tsai or Mongolian milk tea is a traditional Mongolian tea and drink made by brewing tea in a cauldron and adding milk and salt to the tea. It was kind of strange in the beginning to drink salty tea, but after the first few sips I began to drink it in large gulps. Very satisfying.
Sheep’s Head – Сургийн Манлай (Хонины Толгой) Surgiin Manlai (Khoniny Tolgoi)
Sheep’s head prepared by the traditional method
The head and eyeballs are considered special treats given to guests. Sheep’s head is a popular food in Mongolia and one you should try if you are feeling adventurous. First all the hair is removed from the head by burning and scraping. The cleaned and prepared head is then boiled in water until cooked.
And to enhance it for the foreign palate, the chef added spices and other aromatics to make a really good eat. Is that the sheep’s eye socket?
Nomads Pancakes – Номадс Хуушуур (Nomads Khuushuur)
Pancakes with hand-pulled beef and lamb
Khuushuur is a meat pastry popular in Mongolia that is relatively similar to Russian chiburreki or our local curry puff. The meat, either beef or mutton or both, is ground up and mixed with onion (or garlic), salt and other spices. The cook rolls the dough (which is similar to those used to make the Chinese dumplings) into circles, then places the meat inside the dough and folds the dough in half, creating a flat half-circular pocket. The cook then closes the pockets by pressing the edges together.
The Naadam Festival, locally termed “eriin gurvan naadam” (“the three games of men”), is a sporting festival similar where locals come together to compete in horse racing, archery and Mongolian wrestling every year in July 11-13.
Festival Pancakes – Наадам Хуушуур (Naadam Khuushuur)
Pancakes with mincemeat and clams
And during these games, which lasted for days, special khuushuurs are made by different groups, and there will be many road side stalls selling Naadam khuushuurs. The Modern Nomads sell one with a special filling – beef and clams.
All of Mongolian meats come from 100% grass-fed and free-range livestocks. The meat is of the highest quality, full of flavours but it is not something that the city dwellers are accustomed to.
Roasted Lamb Ribs – Цаатны урц (Tsaatny Urts)
Roasted lamb ribs marinated by Chef’s special recipe served with vegetables of the day and homemade noodle topped by natural herb from Gobi
These roasted lamb ribs, for example, were smooched with a foreign looking pepper sauce, but the ribs themselves were very lean. Very delicious.
Spicy Lamb Soup – Хонины Тойгны Шел (Khoniny Toigny Shyel)
Mongolians say “Soup makes full, newborn animals make rich” and they used whatever they can gather for different recipes of nutritional healthy soups. This is a hearty soup with spices and root vegetables with mushrooms and bits of lamb, similar to our local Sup Kambing.
Kebab – Кебаб (Kebab)
Grilled meat, seventy layers pancakes, cucumbers, tomatoes, pressed onions, with flower sauce
Unlike the popular belief, not all cuisine in Mongolia is made entirely of boiled meat. Russian, Chinese and Western influences and vegetables are an integral part of Mongolian food nowadays. Like these kebabs would most likely be influenced by the Arabians that plied the route of the ancient Silk Route.
Steamed Soup – Битуу Шол (Bituu Shol)
Pastry sealed soup with mutton meat made in Mongolian traditional way
Bituu shul is one of the Mongolian traditional meals. This soup is very tasty and served with a “skin” of dumpling dough covering the bowl.
It is said to boost immunity to flu and was promoted as such during the pandemic. Of course, there’s no scientific proof such claims, but it is a delicious and nutritious bowl of soup.
Lamb Belly Salad – Гузээний Салат (Guzeenii Salat)
Guze (lamb belly), carrots, ginger, green onions, hot pepper puree, hot oil, applesauce
Simple sautéed dish on a cast iron hotplate, the ingredients were sweet onions, carrots and rinds of lamb belly. The rinds tasted like crunchy pig’s ear in Chinese braised goods.
King’s Roasted Leg of Lamb – Хаадь 300Г (Хонины Шарсан Гуя) Khaadi 300G (Khoniny Sharsan Guya)
Traditionally roasted lamb whole leg garnished with boiled homemade noodle, variety of vegetables served with dipping sauce
This is a roasted leg of lamb fit for the Khan. Called Khoniny Sharsan Guya, it is served as a centrepiece of banquets in a traditional Ger for important guests.
It came with a lot of side dishes, and a special sauce that was essential for the dried out lamb leg. My colleague simply drowned his cuts of meat in the sauce made from au jus and sherry reduction.
Let’s face it, nobody travels to Mongolia for the food. But if you are planning a trip, it’s worth learning more about the interesting food culture, and a little about how these foods are prepared. Perhaps you can plan on tasting a few delicacies yourself!
Modern Nomads Mongolian Restaurant
СТӨ-ний чанх ард, Үнэн сонины байрны зүүн талд Amar’s street, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia just left of Unen newspaper office, Behind of Cultural Center, the Prime Minister Amar’s street, Sukhbaatar District, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Tel : +97670120808
Visited May 2023