Foods from Mongolia Gers and animals

Mongolia is among the largest nations on earth, covering an area of approximately 1.564 million km² (603,910 mi²). 

It’s a landlocked country between Russia and China in eastern Central Asia; less than 1% of its land is utilised for agricultural purposes. 

Due to Mongolia’s high altitude, harsh winters, and minimal rainfall, much of the country is unsuitable for cultivating crops.

Approximately 30% of Mongolia’s population is nomadic or semi-nomadic, so much of the agricultural industry is focused on animal farming. 

What is Traditional Mongolian Food?

Foods from Mongolia - Dumplings

While corn, potatoes, barley, and wheat are the most common crops cultivated in Mongolia, around 75% of the land is used as pastureland for domestic animals like cows, horses, camels, goats, and sheep.

This has resulted in meat, dairy products, and animal fat featuring heavily in Mongolian food. 

Meat is a fundamental component of Mongolian cuisine, and its variety depends on what is accessible in the region and what animal has been hunted. 

A typical way of preparing meat is to cook it in stews and soups and then serve it with noodles, rice, or vegetables.

For traditional nomadic Mongolians, eating is more about survival than anything else. The food doesn’t exactly appeal to the eye but it serves an essential purpose. They eat to fuel their bodies and keep warm. 

Nomadic Mongolians are very clever at utilising the resources available to them. For example, they milk their animals to produce cheese and long-lasting dairy products and grow whatever they can to live off the land.

Mongolian cuisine is intriguing because it has remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years.

10 Traditional Foods From Mongolia

1) Tsuivan 

Foods from Mongolia - Tsuivan
Foods from Mongolia – Tsuivan

Tsuivan is a traditional Mongolian noodle dish made by stir-frying hand-pulled noodles with vegetables and meat, such as beef or mutton, in a wok or skillet. 

The dish is seasoned with salt, pepper, and other spices if they’re on hand. It’s versatile; you can use whatever vegetables or meats are available. 

You can find this dish served throughout the country, sometimes it’s good, and sometimes it’s not so good – but you can do what the locals do, add a good helping of ketchup to ‘add more flavour’ if it tastes a bit bland.

2) Buuz

Classic Mongolian foods - Buuz
Classic Mongolian foods – Buuz

Buuz are a type of steamed dumplings, and there are quite a few varieties of dumplings in Mongolian cuisine.

Buuz is made by filling a small dough wrapper with minced meat, typically lamb or beef and onions, or garlic, ginger, and other seasonings. Then, the dumplings are steamed until they’re cooked through.

Buuz is typically served with a dipping sauce made of soy sauce, vinegar, and chilli paste, and other traditional Mongolian dishes like noodle soups and meat dishes often accompany it.

This dish is considered a comfort food, often eaten during celebrations, holidays, and family gatherings.

Buuz is an essential part of Mongolian cuisine and culture, as it reflects the country’s nomadic history and the reliance on meat as a primary source of protein. The dish is also a testament to the skill and creativity of Mongolian cooks, who have been perfecting their recipes for generations.

3) Guriltai Shul

Guriltai Shul - MongolianMuttonSoup
Foods of Mongolia that you will definitely try at least once during a visit. Credit: WikimediaCommons

Guriltai Shul is a hearty and flavourful soup popular in Mongolia because it is filling and nutritious, making it ideal for the harsh winter climate. It’s another versatile dish made with various ingredients depending on what is available on the day. 

The soup commonly includes meat, such as beef or mutton, cooked with onions, carrots, and other vegetables until tender. Noodles, usually made from wheat or rice flour, are added to the soup to give it substance and texture.

The soup is seasoned with various spices, including garlic, ginger, and chilli paste.

Served with bread or other baked goods – it’s a firm staple of classic foods from Mongolia.

4) Bansh

Bansh is a dumpling similar to Chinese and Korean dumplings. Typical fillings include minced meat, usually beef or mutton, and onions, garlic, and other seasonings. A lovely dipping sauce is served on the side.

The dumplings are then boiled or steamed until cooked through. This is a classic style of Mongolia foods.

Bansh is considered a staple of Mongolian cuisine and is often made in large batches to share with family and friends. 

Learn how to cook dumplings, noodle soup, and other traditional Mongolian food. Join a Cooking Class in a Traditional Ger home near Ulaanbaatar for an authentic cultural experience (not to mention some delicious home-cooked food).

5) Khorkhog

Foods from Mongolia - Khorkhog
Food in Mongolia almost always includes meat.

Khorkhog is traditional Mongolian food with meat, usually lamb or goat, and it’s cooked with hot stones. First, meat is cut into pieces and placed in a large metal pot with vegetables like onions, potatoes, and carrots. 

Then, hot rocks (previously heated from the fire) are placed in the pot along with the meat and vegetables, the lid is sealed tightly.

The heat from the rocks cooks the meat and vegetables, creating a tender and flavourful stew. Khorkhog is seasoned with salt and sometimes with other spices like cumin or black pepper. 

Khorkhog is one of the most popular foods in Mongolia, and it’s especially prominent during special occasions like festivals or celebrations.

It is also a popular outdoor dish, as it can be cooked over a campfire or in a pit dug in the ground.

6) Budaatai Huurga

Foods from Mongolia - Budaatai Huurga
Mongolia foods – Budaatai Huurga

Budaatati Huurga is a rice-based dish steeped in tradition.

To prepare this hearty meal, rice is cooked with shredded beef or lamb, along with various vegetables including eggs, cabbage, onions, bell peppers, and carrots.

It’s quite similar to a dish called ‘Plov’, a dish you will undoubtedly eat if you visit countries in Central Asia.

To enhance the flavour profile of Budaatai Huurga, the dish is seasoned with a blend of soy sauce, cumin, and chilli flakes or chilli powder, providing a savoury and slightly spicy taste that is sure to satisfy.

RELATED POST – What is Central Asian Food? 7 Popular Dishes

7) Boortsog

If you spend some time in the country, you will encounter these fried Mongolia foods everywhere.

Boortsog is a Mongolian fried pastry made from flour, sugar, salt, water, and sometimes milk or yogurt. The dough is kneaded, cut into small pieces, and shaped into various forms, such as squares or triangles. 

These pieces are deep-fried in oil until golden brown and crispy.

Boortsog is a popular snack or dessert in Mongolia and is often served with tea. People of all ages enjoy it, and it is particularly popular during festive occasions such as Lunar New Year celebrations.

In addition to its delicious taste, Boortsog is also appreciated for its long shelf life, making it a convenient food for nomadic herders and travellers.

8) Khuushuur

Popular Mongolian Foods - Khuushuur
Popular Mongolian Foods – Khuushuur

Khuushuur is a classic Mongolian dish similar to a deep-fried meat pastry or dumpling—oily and filling, like any quick and easy snack in many countries worldwide. They remind me of empanadas across Latin America; however, the animal fat content in Khuushuur beats anything from that region.

The dish consists of a filling made from minced meat (usually beef or mutton) mixed with onions and spices, which is then wrapped in a thin layer of dough and deep-fried until crispy and golden brown. 

It is also a favourite food among nomadic herders due to its portability and long shelf life. 

Khuushuur tastes better with traditional Mongolian sides, such as dairy products like yogurt or cheese, and salads made from vegetables like cabbage or cucumbers.

In addition, it is known for its tasty flavour and satisfying crunch. 

RELATED POST – Top 5 Popular Foods in South America

9) Airag

Foods from Mongolia - Airag
Foods from Mongolia – Airag

Airag is a traditional Mongolian beverage made from fermented mare’s milk. It is also known as “kumis” in some regions of Central Asia. This unusual beverage features in our post about 9 weird drinks in the world that will surprise you.

Making Airag involves allowing raw mare’s milk to ferment naturally over several hours or days, which results in a tangy, slightly sour taste.

Airag is an essential part of Mongolian cuisine and is consumed widely across the country. It is prevalent during the summer when the horses are in season, as fresh mare’s milk is needed to make the beverage.

This liquid is also valued for its health benefits, as it is rich in vitamins, minerals, and probiotics that aid in digestion.

In Mongolian culture, Airag is regarded as a symbol of hospitality and friendship. Often served to guests as a gesture of goodwill, and it is customary to offer a bowl of Airag to visitors when they arrive at a household or campsite. It would be impolite to refuse, so accept gracefully and take a few sips to be respectful.

We drank a similar beverage regularly on our overland Trip from Lhasa, Tibet to Kathmandu in Nepal.

The drinking of Airag is accompanied by various customs and rituals, such as the use of unique wooden bowls and the practice of slurping the beverage loudly to show appreciation.

RELATED POST – Food Map of Asia – Delicious Food to Taste in 39 Countries

10) Aaruul

Foods from Mongolia - Aaruul snacks
Snack Food Mongolia – Aaruul

Aarul is a dairy product made from curdled milk. It is typically made by boiling milk until it curdles and then by straining the solids through a cheesecloth or other fine sieve. 

The resulting curds are then pressed into small, bite-sized pieces and left to dry in the sun or a warm, dry place.

Aaruul has a tangy, slightly sour taste and a chewy texture similar to dried fruit. It is commonly eaten as a snack or dessert and served alongside tea or other beverages. 

We were offered Tea and Aaruul many times during our travels in Mongolia when welcomed into homes. I wasn’t much of a fan of it, but I always humbly accepted and consumed it to avoid offending my hosts.

Yes, Aaruul might be one of the foods you have to grow up with to love, similar to Australians with their vegemite (read more about vegemite and classic Australian foods here) but who knows, perhaps you’ll be a fan?

Either way, Aaruul is also a necessary part of Mongolian culture and is often exchanged as a gift between friends and family.

A Summary of Mongolian Food

Foods from Mongolia - A Ger Home with hosts
Foods from Mongolia – A Ger Home with our hosts

After reading about these foods from Mongolia, you can see how Mongolian cuisine is a meat lover’s paradise, as nearly every dish features some meat. 

It’s also worth mentioning that Mongolian cuisine uses seasonings sparingly. Instead, most meat dishes are typically seasoned with just a light touch of salt, allowing the meat’s natural flavours to take centre stage.

Given Mongolia’s long and frigid winters, the locals consume many dairy products and animal fats to build up their calorie stores. During winter, meat is often frozen and preserved to survive harsh weather. 

Many Mongolians’ nomadic lifestyle requires keeping things simple, including their kitchens and belongings. 

Mongolia is, without a doubt, a fascinating country. If you’re interested in visiting yourself and learning about the culture, cuisine, and traditions, we highly recommend these small group tours in Mongolia with GAdventures.

Travel Tips & Inspiration

If you plan to visit China after you’ve had the best time exploring Mongolia, we have some detailed posts that you may find helpful.

Firstly, read about the 10 most popular foods from China you need to taste, and for those of you who dare – here are the 10 most bizarre foods to eat in China too.

It’s essential to read about how to avoid these 6 common tourist scams in China, as travellers get caught out quite often – especially in the main cities.

We love to share our knowledge of travelling, and you may enjoy reading our best-ever travel tips and our ultimate packing list for travellers.

For the food lovers, don’t miss our top 10 best countries for foodies! And, if you’re more interested in history, these 30 amazing historical places in the world will fascinate you!

We’ve got a bunch of tips for how you can save money to travel the world, and even when you’re out there travelling, maybe these 20 jobs that PAY YOU to travel the world will help you travel longer. It worked for us, and we bet it can work for you too.

Finally, these top 6 travel hacks to save you money are great to read when planning your travels.

And, if you’re planning a new trip, whether it’s for a week, a month, or even a few years, consider buying an eSIM to stay connected. This is our favourite travel product, and you can read more about what is in eSIM and why eSIM is so convenient for International Travel.

Check out the travel gear we use on the road, and for the products and sites we recommend to plan new trips, head to our Travel Resources Page.