Street Food in Mongolia

Known as an adventure destination, Mongolia has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world because of the influx of foreign investments. Mongolia is known for its untapped minerals, extreme climate, and Genghis Khan. Mongolian food is mostly animal fat, meat, and dairy products. It is not known for its use of spices and vegetables. Yet the street food in Mongolia is a flourishing business but mostly during holidays and special events because in Mongolia, eating in public can be seen as a form of disrespect. This is why in many places in Mongolia, street food only comes out on special days. The exception to this is the capital city of Ulan Bator or Ulaanbaatar and in Naadam. In addition, many of the streets in other places are not paved which makes for unfavorable eating and cooking conditions. However, when the street food comes out, some of the food you can expect to find and should taste are:

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Khuushuur – This is a fried pastry filled with meat that is very common as street fare. It is the local version of Russia’s chiburekki or the Asian dumpling. However, it looks a lot like the Spanish empanada as well. The meat used is either beef or mutton and the steamed version is known as buuz.

Airag – This is a Mongolian drink made from fermented horse milk and has mild alcoholic content.  The traditional way of making this drink is by putting the milk in horse hide containers to allow it to ferment. The container is turned over several times during the day to agitate and prevent the milk from coagulating.

Khailmag – This is a tasty butter pastry made with filling. It has been described as the local version of crème brulee. It is caramelized pastry made from urum or clotted cream. When it is being cooked, the fat separates and is used to make candles or for frying.

The food most popular to the world is Mongolian barbeque which is a stir fry dish originally from Taiwan.  The Chinese created this dish as their take on what they thought was the traditional way of cooking Mongolian meat – in large chunks all together. Today’s modern version of Mongolian barbeque is a mish-mash or meats, seafood, and vegetables and is nothing like any traditional Mongolian dish.


Mongolia’s Food Culture And Street Food

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Mongolia is a country with no seas around its borders. It is locked in by East and Central Asia, Russia, and Inner Mongolia which in terms of food culture, makes for a very interesting adventure. Almost half of the country’s population lives in the main capital city of Ulan Bator.

Today, after decades of violent wars and encounters with its neighbors, Mongolia is the 19th largest country in the world with a meager population of 3.2 million. There is little agriculture and farming because of the lack of arable land. Yet one of their main industries is food processing. Also, it is considered by the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) as being one of the countries that could end up supplying the world with food should a major global crisis occur.

The traditional food of Mongolia is known as the borts. It is air dried beef that is shaped into a ball. To eat, one must shave off the meat and cook in hot water to create a flavorful, protein-loaded beef soup. Many of other Mongolian food do not require refrigeration because the people use techniques handed down through the generations that preserves the food well for long periods.

The street food in Mongolia is ever-present in almost all residential streets in the country. The smell of food cooking seems to permeate through walls, windows and doors so much so that you are drawn to the street to sample the traditional food like bansh, khuushuur, and buuz.

Most Mongolian food consists of minced meat (beef , camel, mutton, horse, and even gazelle) coated in flour and seasoned well before being steamed, boiled, or fried. The servings are usually very generous and heavy since it contains a lot of meat.

You can expect food high in minerals and protein with less emphasis on vegetables and fruits. Milk is often used because they come from domestic farm animals. Some of the Mongolian food that uses milk from sheep, cows, goats, horses, and camels are the orom which is the cream from boiled milk, the aaruul or dried curds, airag or fermented horse milk, eetsgii or dried cheese, tarag or sour yoghurt, and nermel which is vodka from milk, among others. Milk products are prepared during the dry months and stored for use in long winter.

In the past 10 years, international cuisine has found its way into Mongolia so it is entirely possible to find Russian, Italian, Chinese, Korean, and Japanese restaurants around the main capital.