INFORMATION FOR TRAVELERS
THE TRADITIONAL CUISINE MONGOLIA
THE WHITE FOOD OF THE MONGOL
The milk is the main ingredient for food and over 2000 kinds of meals and dishes
can be made of milk. As Mongolians have diary diet for the half of the year,
Mongolians have developed own very unique tradition, methodology, technology and
experience in processing milk. The white food can he classified into three main
categories including protein-rich, sour and oily diray products.
FERMENTED WHITE FOOD AND DRINKS
Tarag or yogurt, airag (fermented mare's milk) and khoormog (fermented
camel's milk) are fermented drinks and are consumed as soon as it's prepared.
Tarag is considered as the essence of food, but not a drink for its highly
nutritious quality, hence Mongolians say 'eat Tarag' but not drink. Tarag is
made of sheep, goat, cow or yak milk. Tarag of sheep milk becomes very thick
like liver so it's mainly named as 'elgen' or 'liver tarag' and is very
STORING THE FERMENT
In late autumn, when the fermented drinks get their absolute tastiness and are
made for the last time, the essence of ferment is taken into the disinfected
khadak or gauze cotton. Then it's freezed at night, dried in the wind during the
day and kept in leather bag for later use in next spring. The ferment ofairag is
taken into cleaned leather bag, frozen and dried for storage. In late spring,
when the milking season starts, the family who kept the best essence of ferments
discloses the storage and delivers to local families.
DELIVERING THE FERMENT
As tarag, airag and khoormog are 'alive' food, the ferment of these drinks are
kept and stored at a special family which has the responsibility to keep the
best taste and quality of drinks in the local area. The family discloses the
ferment in late spring and the local people would go to the family to get the
ferment for their home production. When making the first tarag, one says: "You
become 'elgen' I'll be also 'elgen'", a blessing to live peacefully and to have
abundant white food to the summer. 'Elgen' means liver in Mongolian so it
symbolizes the best quality of tarag and also symbolizes the peace because
'liver' is an organ for Mongolians that symbolizes the love and soul.
The fermented drinks are not only nutritious but also high curing and medical
significance. Tarag of sheep milk is so thick that one can cut a cubic shape of
tarag and serve it on a dish. Its taste is sweet, similar to sugary cream and it
intensifies the food digestion and helps to sleep well. Tarag of goat's milk
cures chronic diseases of internal organs such as stomach and liver and reduces
swelling. Tarag of cow's milk cures scurvy and any allergies.
KHOORMOG - FERMENTED CAMEL'S MILK
The khoormog or fermented camel's milk is thicker than airag, doesn't produce
any casein, quite aerated and has sweet and sour taste. It activates food
digestion and coronary activities, recuperates weakness and cures chronic
diseases of internal organs such as stomach, liver and kidney and reduces
AIRAG - FERMENTED MARE'S MILK
Mare's milk is used in treating chronic diseases of internal organs such as
stomach and liver. There are many recordings in ancient sutras and books on
curing quality of mare's milk. Mark O' Polo, Italian traveler to Mongol Empire
in 13th century wrote 'They (Mongols) have herds of pure white horses, among
them only mares are some ten thousand and they prepare the drinks of high kings
with their milk...'. In the surra of traditional medicine, it was written that
'...If catching ten white mares in the valley and making airag of their milk in
the shadow, it'll make you ten years younger, recovering all the diseases and
restoring the strength'. There's a legend that the airag prepared of white
mares' milk is so tasty that if one drinks, has no wish to drink anything other,
so it was prepared only for the kings, finding a name of 'King drink'. Airag
strongly intensifies the food digestion, thus it is the only drink that one can
drink as much as one want, even up to 20 liters a day. It has high curing
quality as well as supporting coronary activity, reducing high blood pressure
and serves as antidote to any of poisoning even of radioactive substance.
When drinking airag:
Let the airag be nutritious and tasty
When offering airag:
Let the vessel be full and generous
When churning the airag:
Let there be more butter from airag
When making a vessel or leather skin bag:
Let the vessel be bigger.
When making a chruning stick:
Let the piston be
Made of birch
And be pure and strong
When distilling vodka from airag:
Let the vodka be strong
And your wife be beautiful or
Let the vodka be strong
Airag be tasty
Aarts be sour.
As milk is the extract or essence of mother animal to feed its offspring, it is
the most nutritious food. Hence, Mongolians value milk as the best of food and
symbolize through milk all the best and holy. When Mongolians go for a distant
trip, the stirrups are blessed with milk and milk sprinkling ritual is done to
wish the trip be without trouble and hindrance. Mongolians say
"The essence of food is the milk
The essence of belief is the soul"
and offer milk sprinkling ritual to offer the best to the nature and to express
their gratefulness to the lords and spirits of the nature. Mongolians have their
White Month, lunar calendar New year at the end of winter to bless the new year
and to wish the new year be flourishing. The dishes for this celebration consist
of mainly white food to bless they coming year all the holy and the best.
When greeting during the lunar New Year:
Let your white airag
Fill undulating its vessel
Let you white sheep
Fill its camp
Let your cows to milk
Stand in row.
In autumn when the families collect abundant milk and diary products to overcome
winter and spring until they start milking animals again, they have feast to
celebrate the hard work of summer and autumn, to thank to the nature and
livestock for their blessing and generosity.
- When a family moving to other pasture passes by, one goes to the
caravan and offers drinks and diary products to welcome them on the way.
- It's a taboo to put water into milk, but adding milk to water is
- Each person has their own cup and one should lick the cup if eats
meal or yogurt in it, but one shall not lick if drink tea or airag.
- One shall not offer milk to fire because it's believed to blind the
eyes of fire. One shall only offer butter, oil and meat.
The prayer of offering to the lords of nature is:
The Lord of Good destiny
The Fate of Bright fortune
Please open the gate of virtue
And close the gate of loss!
- If one pours or spills milk or diary products to the ground or floor,
one shall put one's right index finger into the spilled and applies to the
forehead to show the respect and blessing to the nature and to prevent the
anger of nature.
- Tea, airag or drinks shall be poured into the cup in clockwise
- If there's no left-over of airag in the cup, one shall pour airag again
into the cup.
- As the guests shall taste the urum or clotted cream first, the urum
should be on top of the diary product dish. It's interesting that one takes
a small chip from urum, but eats like chewing a big piece.
- Eezgii and byaslag, the two kinds of dried cheese are made by boiling
down, thus it's forbidden to offer only eezgii or cheese to elder and
- The eldest person shall taste the offered diary product first and if
not, no one shall taste nor touch the offered dish.
PROTEIN-RICH DIARY PRODUCTS
These are diary products such as aarts - sour yogurt, aaruul - dried curd,
byaslag and eezgii that are possible to store for long period of time.
AARTS - SOUR CURD
It's one of the most produced and widely consumed traditional foods and is main
ingredient to many dishes. It also becomes the basic raw material to make other
kinds of diary products. It can be made of yogurt or airag. The curd of tarag is
made of yogurt by boiling and filtering sour water. Curd of airag is made of
airag of sheep, goat or cow's milk, after churning the butter from airag,
distilling vodka and then boiling and filtering sour water. Also it can be made
of camel's milk or mare's milk after fermeting, churning, boiling and filtering.
The curd of airag called 'boz' has very sour taste, thus it can be boiled in
fresh milk of sheep or cow so that it becomes sweet and thick.
AARUUL - DRIED CURDS
Aaruul is made of curds by mixing it with sugar and wild berries and cutting the
curd into different shapes and patterns. The milk aaruul is made of curds after
it's boiled in fresh milk and then sliced and dried. It's mostly sliced in
length and is possible to keep for a long time. Worm curds are small chunks of
curds squeezed into dipper and used for decorating white food dish on a feast or
for giving out to little kids. It's made of curd with sugar, sweets and roasted
flour mixed with cream. Aaruul made of airag curd has a very unique and strong
taste of airag. Western Mongolian aaruul is soft and oily because they make
airag from unboiled milk. The aaruul of Ajiin bor is very popular for its milky
taste and quality not to dry up. The aaruul of camel's milk is nutritious and
has unique sweet taste.
BYASLAG - CHEESE
Mongolian cheese is very nutritious and is considered to be the food of respect.
Cheese is the dish for the trip or feast and is made of only sheep or cow's
milk. It can be made of boiled or fresh milk and it's sliced and dried into thin
pieces for storing for long time. It can be eaten soaked in tea or milk, and it
also can be used as flavor to soup.
EEZGII - HARDENED MILK
This is the very distinct food that is made only among the Mongol race. To make
the eezgii, one boils the milk until it evaporates all water and liquid so that
the thick chunks of curds are roasted, inclusive of all nutritious ingredients
and proteins of milk. In some areas, they make eezgii by cutting it into big
cubic pieces before evaporating all water. This kind of eezgii is called as 'hugshin'
or 'old' because it easily soaked. Eezgii helps curing chronic diseases of
internal organs such as liver and bile.
MILK AND DIARY PRODUCTS
IN MONGOLIAN TRADITIONAL CUISINE
Milk and diary products can be used as the main ingredients for many kinds
of meals. The diary meal can be used as food and medical treatment. Milk with
curds. It's one of the favorite dishes of Mongolians. Each cup is filled with
boiled milk and then yogurt or airag is added so that the milk turns into thick
curd and liquid. One drinks the liquid or adds fresh boiled milk onto the curds
and is served. This food is very digestive, suitable for elders and children.
It's also served as breakfast and dinner as medical treatment for people who
have diseases of stomach and liver.
In the regions of Gobi and steppe, sheep and I goats are milked two times a day.
After boiling the fresh milk, each children has a cup of milk for making curdled
milk. There's a saying that 'If you are hungry and greedy, eat now. if think of
your food for winter, dry and keep'. So kids would drink the liquid and dried
the curds making different shapes they want. Adults don't eat their dried curds,
so that children will have one or two pieces each day in winter. It's easily
soaked, but adults prefer children to eat when it's hard so that children's
teeth get healthier and stronger.
Milk with rice. It's nutritious and rich in protein and oil. After
cooking any rice, barley or millet, boiled milk is added.
Milk with noodle. This food is very digestive, rich in protein.
Milk with eezgii. It's a special food of medical treatment and is given
to children, elders and weak patients. Dried eezgii is pounded and soaked in
fresh milk for 2-3 hours. Then it's boiled and flavored with wild onion. This
milk soup is very tasty and nutritious and suitable for patients with liver or
Liver boiled in milk. It's a very special meal that is cooked for medical
purpose to treat illnesses of scurvy, hepatisis or patients who are sick for
over long period of time. The liver pieces in long thin slices are dipped into
boiling hot salty water for 2-3 minutes until its color rums to brown and then
cooked in milk. The goat liver of spring is highly prepferred for making this
food for its high curing quality.
Protein-rich white food can be cooked with other ingredients of green
(vegetable) or red food (meat). Especially curdled sour milk is used in cooking
hot dishes and salads. Oily white food is mostly used in increasing the
nutrition or for roasting, frying and grilling.
Curd soup. Dissolving frozen or fresh curd milk in cold water and cooking
with barley or roasted flour, this drink is made. It's flavored with salt, sugar
and butter and also spicy seasons can be used. It's suitable to drink it after
heavy meal in winter and spring for improving digestion, preventing from scurvy
and restoring strength.
Curd soup with rice. Similar to the hot curd soup, but added rice or
millet and flavored with sugar, salt and butter, this soup is very suitable
during cool weathers of autumn, winter and spring.
Curd soup with barley. It's one if the most nutritious food which is widely
consumed during the coldest period of winter. First barley is undercooked in
meat soup, then added to the curd soup and flavored with butter and spicy
Soup with dried meat and sour milk. During cool summer days of rain and
storm, this soup is cooked especially to nurse elders, children and pregnant
women. The dried meat is soaked in milk for 4-6 hours, then added to water with
fresh milk and sour curd.
Steamed or deep fried mutton with sour milk. This dish has many other
varieties and ingredients. The dough is prepared with fresh milk and roasted
barley or flour. The frozen or fresh sour curd is mixed with cooked rice or
millet flavored with salt and spice then pinched into the dough and steamed or
Milk soup with cheese. This food is suitable for people who have food
digestion problems. Fresh cheese is cut into cubes or dried cheese is pounded
and soaked in milk. Then it's boiled in milk and flavored with salt and sugar.
Soup with dried curds. Eezgii and aaruul are pounded and soaked in fresh milk
for 2-4 hours and then cooked in meat soup. It's very digestive and cooked for
children, elders and patients for medical treatment.
THE RITUAL OF SAAKH OR MILKING
As soon as the milking season starts, people have the ritual of Milking.
During this ritual, diary products are offered to everyone and special diary
products are given to children. Milk in a sil;ver cup with Khadak and meat of
sheep neck are offered to the person who's to herd the livestock on the pasture
on that day. The neighbor families often exchange their lambs so that they would
not suckle before the sheep are milked until late autumn.
THE RITUAL OF MARE AND FOAL
It's an ancient ritual to celebrate the feast of horse herd and to greet the
season of airag drinks. Mongolians mostly have this ritual on the first summer
day of Tiger and have the Ritual of releasing the mare and foal on last autumn
day of Dog. However in Kalmuk, they catch their foal and mare and have the
ritual in late May or early June.
Before catching the young foals, the herders drive in 2 big wooden stakes
into the ground and tie the long leather tether. The first bom oldest foal is
caught at first with the lasso pole with khadak and then the other folas are
caught and tied to the tether. Local people bring their home-made diary products
and airag to take part in the ritual. Next to the tether, on the white felt
carpet, women offer dishes of diary products and put the vessel with mare's milk
and the ceremony starts.
Nine riders mount on their horses and go in a clockwise direction around the
tether and the ger camp and come to the ger door, where women are waiting with
the milk in a silver cup. Then the nine horseriders hold the vessel with milk
hanging it from the lasso pole and go around the tether three times in a
clockwise direction. During that, all the people sing 'Tseen tsod' and women
acts the ritual of sprinkling from the vessel and the prayer says the ode to
sprinkling. After that, the men will tie khadak (sacrad blue scarf) to the
stallion and the oldest foal and come back to the ger. The dishes of diary
products shall be brought to the ger by resting three times on the way to the
ger. Then the feast starts when the oldest or the most respected person in the
local area will greet everyone, share the ceremonial dish of meat to the guests
and the prayer says the Praise to Mare and Foal.
In late autumn day, on a day of good fortune, all the horses are gathered back
at the camp and as the mares are milked for the last time, the foals are
released from their hangers.
The tether and the wooden stakes are seized and stored until next autumn and the
feast starts to celebrate this summer's rich gifts from the nature. Into the
holes of wooden stakes, one shall put some milk and barley symbolizing to have
abundant milk and the horses grow in plenty next year.
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