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The extreme continental climate of Mongolia has influenced the traditional diet. Use of vegetables and spices are limited. Due to geographic proximity and deep historic ties with China and Russia, Mongolian cuisine is also influenced by Chinese and Russian cuisine.
The nomads of Mongolia sustain their lives directly from the products of domesticated animals such as cattle, horses, camels, yaks, sheep, and goats, as well as game. Meat is either cooked, used as an ingredient for soups and dumplings (buuz, khuushuur, bansh, manti), or dried for winter (borts). The Mongolian diet includes a large proportion of animal fat which is necessary for the Mongols to withstand the cold winters and their hard work. Winter temperatures are as low as −40 °C (−40 °F) and outdoor work requires sufficient energy reserves. Milk and cream are used to make a variety of beverages, as well as cheese and similar products.
The nomads on the countryside are self-supporting on principle. Travellers will find gers marked as guanz in regular intervals near the roadside, which operate as simple restaurants. In the ger, which is a portable dwelling structure (yurt is a Turkic word for a similar shelter, but the name is ger in Mongolian), Mongolians usually cook in a cast-iron or aluminum pot on a small stove, using wood or dry animal dung fuel (argal).
The most common rural dish is cooked mutton, often without any other ingredients. In the city, every other local displays a sign saying "buuz". Those are steamed dumplings filled with meat. Other types of dumplings are boiled in water (bansh, manti), or deep fried in mutton fat (khuushuur). Other dishes combine the meat with rice or fresh noodles made into various stews (tsuivan, budaatai huurga) or noodle soups (guriltai shol).
The most surprising cooking method is only used on special occasions. In this case, the meat (often together with vegetables) gets cooked with the help of stones, which have been preheated in a fire. This either happens with chunks of mutton in a sealed milk can (khorkhog), or within the abdominal cavity of a deboned goat or marmot (boodog).
Milk is boiled to separate the cream (öröm, clotted cream). The remaining skimmed milk is processed into cheese ("byaslag"), dried curds (aaruul), yogurt, kefir, and a light milk liquor (shimiin arkhi). The most prominent national beverage is airag, which is fermented mare's milk. A popular cereal is barley, which is fried and malted. The resulting flour (arvain guril) is eaten as a porridge in milk fat and sugar or drunk mixed in milky tea. The everyday beverage is salted milk tea (süütei tsai), which may turn into a robust soup by adding rice, meat, or bansh. As a result of the Russian influence during socialism, vodka has also gained some popularity with a surprising number of local brands (usually grain spirits).
Horse meat is eaten in Mongolia and can be found in most grocery stores.
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- Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2007, p. 268
- Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 2007, p. 269
- Chinggis vodka
- Marshall Cavendish Corporation (2007) World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia, Marshall Cavendish, p. 268 -269 ISBN 0-7614-7633-4