Mongolian food is very much a meat and flour based cuisine with not much room for fruit, vegetables or spices.
Sometimes in the more upmarket restaurants, (easily distinguished by a table cloth at your table and a knife with your fork!) you may have a second option on the menu… Rice with meat.
The lack of fresh fruit and vegetables was one thing we struggled with most in Mongolia.
The people are very self sufficient, raising, butchering, preserving and using every part of the animals they farm, additionally they produce their own milk, butter,whey curd and yogurt, along with baking their own bread and frequently venturing into the woods to gather wild nuts and berries or shooting marmot on the plains. So you can imagine shopkeepers would consider it a waste to have all the above lying unneeded on their shelves, therefore the choice in a lot of shops consists of tined food, instant noodles, dried foods and grains, such as rice and semolina. Very frustrating as a malnurited, vitamin deprived cycle tourer desperately craving a crunchy carrot!
On occasions we would come across vans selling water melons, carrots or onions on the side of the road, particularly on the outskirts of towns further west. The water melons of course were devoured with gusto.
We often wondered why there were so many stripped, naked pine cones discarded on the side of the road until we were handed a large one at a ger. Bemused as to what to do with it we were showed how to strip back the pine cone scales to reveal the little nuts inside, these little gems are packed full of vitamins and minerals and offer a good source of nourishment.
Patience and perserverance needed.
One thing I couldn’t resist was Mongolian curd, otherwise known as aaruul, which is made from cow, yak or camel milk. The milk is left to curdle and the solid parts are pressed into cakes and left to dry in the sun, usually by placing them on the roofs of the gers. They are easily stored and ideal for travel, the only problem is having the will power to ration them!
Delicious aaruul. I’m actually smiling here…
I really enjoyed Khuushuur, which is a mince meat, usually mutton,filled pastry pancake with onion, and found everywhere in Mongolia. It’s pan fried or deep fried and is a great comfort food.