7 Best Food To Try In Mongolia: What Nomads Eat - Updated 2023

best food to try in mongolia

Much of Mongolian cuisine remains mysterious to the outside world just like its people. There has been misconceptions about it, especially due to how it is portrayed in the commercial food world. The Mongolian bowls and barbecue that you find so intriguing in malls, for instance, isn’t actually Mongolian in origin, but Taiwanese. The Mongol tend to veer towards more simple, hearty meals. They are keen on using the ingredients that they have. There isn’t a lot of vegetation in their meals, since Mongols are mostly meat-eating people. This may be due to their nomadic ways, moving from place to place, and so their animals (their main source of sustenance) could also move with them. This may seem surprising, but the Mongol culture isn’t really passed on through the food that they eat. It is not as rich or as awarded as other cultures, however, Mongolia’s cuisine should still be on your list of must-try’s, just to complete the whole experience. So, here are seven dishes and beverages to try out while in Mongolia:

1. Putting "meat onto your bones" with mutton kebabs  (from USD 725.0)

Ground beef kebab
Source: Photo by user AAB_BAA used under CC BY 2.0

Mutton kebabs are a common dish in festivals such as in Naadam, around wrestling or archery matches where the protein is most needed. Most restaurants will not serve them though. They are mostly found in small food stalls around the city the rest of the year. Mutton kebabs are considered the authentic Mongolian barbecue, with a skewer of mutton and very heavy layers of pure salted fat, which is what primarily brings in the flavor of the dish. You’ll also find a couple of vegetable pieces skewered in-between, such as potato.

3-Day Naadam Festival Group Tour

Duration: 3 days

2. Try the dried cheese biscuit  (from USD 97.0)

Aaruul 3
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Brücke-Osteuropa used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Known as qurut or aaruul and by many other names, qurut is drained yogurt or drained sour milk that is formed by sun drying until it becomes flakey. It can be shaped in a variety of different ways such as balls, strips, and chunks. However, those in Mongolia prefer it in a circular, flattened form. It is considered dessert for Mongolians and is available on many menus. Some also like to slather yak butter on them. This may serve as a surprise, but while it may sound appetizing, these biscuits don’t sit well with most Westerners.

Private Custom-Made Ulaanbaatar Tour with a Local Guide

Duration: 8 hours

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3. The simple, hearty Khuushur

Giant Fried Jiaozi Dumplings
Source: Photo by user Andrea Nguyen used under CC BY 2.0

Khuushur, pronounced as horshure, is one of Mongolia’s more common dishes and may have been influenced largely by Russian cuisine. Khuushur is a meat pastry or dumpling, that uses mutton mostly. Mongolian cuisine doesn’t really use a lot of vegetables and so a traditional khuushur is mostly meat, however, meat-vegetable fusion pastries have emerged in the last decade. The meat is placed inside a dough pocket and then fried in oil until golden brown. Khuushur is mostly finger food and should be rightly eaten by hand. Apart from just being one of Mongolia’s more iconic food items, Khuushur is also said to be healing, by stimulating the blood circulation in the hands. Mongolians put the hot, steaming pastry between their palms and at the tip of their fingers. To try your hand at making these delicious snacks yourself, why not take a local cooking class?

3-Hour Mongolian Nomadic Cooking Tour

Address: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia


4. The rich, highly-calorific orom

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Brücke-Osteuropa used under PUBLIC DOMAIN

Another dessert to try is called orom or clotted cream, a rich, highly-calorific cream from animals such as yaks, goats, and cows. Each type of milk brings its own specific flavor to the orom; The yak has a more aggressive flavor while that of the goat tends to be more subtle and sweet. Just like ice cream or yoghurt, you can pair orom with jam and sugar or spread it over baked bread. It can be eaten as a dessert or during breakfast.

Discover Mongolia Food Tours

Address: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Website: Discover Mongolia Food Tours

5. Mare's milk; airag

Milking the horses
Source: Photo by user Scott Presly used under CC BY 2.0

New to trying Mongolian cuisine? The airag might not be the best starter. It’s one of those food items that’ll put travelers off right away. Airag is fermented mare’s milk and has been an alcoholic beverage for nomads since the time of Genghis Khan. Some nomads still drink it, although modernization has them turning to vodka now, which is quicker and more reliable in terms of supply. If you’re staying with a family or with a homestay, most hosts offer this. It’s rude to decline, so best to drink up, or more accurately, sip up.

Mongolian Horse Trek

Address: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Website: Mongolian Horse Trek

6. Wasting nothing with Five Fingers

Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Matthew Levine used under CC BY 2.0

Five Fingers may not sound so palatable, but you might be surprised once you actually try it. Some regurgitate from the foreignness of the taste, while others learn to enjoy it after a couple of tries. Five Fingers is made by boiling every internal organ of an animal, mostly the sheep or goat - from its stomach, head, liver, heart, and ribs to its legs. Specific parts are usually given to each member of the family based on their importance. The guest of honor is given one of the most nutritious parts, the eyeball. It should be eaten with the hands, thus the name “Five Fingers.” What will complete the experience is when you’re eating this underneath a ger, or traditional Mongolian tent, so you’ll immerse yourself fully on how Mongolian hunters lived long ago.

Food Tours in Mongolia

Address: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Website: Food Tours in Mongolia

7. The national dish of Mongolia, mutton dumplings or "buuz"

Mongolian buuz
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Mizu basyo used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Buuz is considered the national dish of Mongolia and is often found in many roadhouses and hole-in-the-walls. Unfortunately, you won’t spot them anymore in most restaurants. It’s a humble steamed dumpling dish, stuffed with mutton or goat, onion, garlic, and caraway. It’s mostly served with soup or broth, although some prefer to eat it as is. Fusion dishes in high-end restaurants have started to use duck or beef.

Food and Traditional Specialties Tour in Mongolia

Address: Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Website: Food and Traditional Specialties Tour in Mongolia

Share Mongolia’s relationship to food

Do as the Mongols do. Eat as the Mongols eat. You’ll see that much of the Mongol cuisine is survival food. If they aren’t high in animal fat, they are dried in order for the Mongols to withstand the harsh winters. Because Mongols are always keen to move, they also don’t use a lot of equipment. They usually just use and bring an aluminum pot and a small stove, while foraging for wood wherever they are. While modernization has provided all the equipment and convenience needed, much of the lifestyle are still primed towards the old ways, something that even the most modern Mongol can’t turn off like a switch. In a way, this is somehow a comfort; that the food that you eat while in Mongolia has remained unchanged for thousands and thousands of years.

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Johanna Michelle Lim is a brand strategist, creative director, and travel writer based in Cebu City, Philippines. She swims in jellyfish-infested oceans, treks through mountains, rides rickety...Read more

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