The most important tip I can give you on Mongolia  local food, and the only one that will make you elevate from being a tourist to becoming a real traveler immersed in the local culture, is “Stay away from McDonalds“. When visiting Mongolia, there is awesome local food to try. Head to the local eateries too, and go where the locals go. For me, the food, wine and and even the water is part of the travel experience.

What to Eat in Mongolia

The main diet in rural Mongolia is mutton or sheep. Beef might also hit the menu occasionally. Here, about MNT8,000-10,000 will buy you a large platter heaped with fried noodles and slivers of mutton. On the side will be a large bottle of ketchup. A tasty and greasy dish served is khuushuur (huushoor), which is a fried pancake stuffed with bits of mutton and onion.

Three to four make a typical meal. Also, the ubiquitous buuz (booz) can be had at any canteen in town or the countryside. Buuz are similar to khuushuur in that they are big dumplings stuffed with mutton and onion, however they are steamed rather than fried. About 6 buuz cost MNT3,000-4,000 (USD2.15-2.87) and serves one. The boodog or goat/marmot barbecue, is particularly worth experiencing. For about MNT30,000-40,000, a nomad will head out with his gun, shoot a marmot, and then cook it for you using hot stones in its skin without a pot. Along the same lines as boodog is khorkhog (made of mutton), which is prepared like so: build a fire; toss stones into fire until red hot; place water, hot stones, onions, potatoes, carrots, and, finally, mutton chops, into a large vacuum-sealed kettle; let the kettle simmer over a fire for 30-60 minutes; open kettle carefully, as the top will inevitably explode, sending hot juices flying everywhere; once the kettle is opened, and all injuries have been tended to, eat contents of kettle, including the salty broth.

This cooking method makes mutton taste tender and juicy, like slow-roasted turkey. Ask your guide if he or she can arrange one (but only during summer). The boodog is also made of other meat, usually goat, and is similar to the khorhog with one major difference: the meat, vegetables, water and stones are cooked inside the skin of the animal. They skin it very carefully, and then tie off the holes at the legs and back side, put the food and hot stones inside, tie off the throat, and let it cook for about 30 minutes.

What to Drink in Mongolia

The legal drinking/purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 18. The national drink is called Airag. (It is available in for example in traditional mongolian “ger” tents in Ulan Bator at the main entrance of Gandantegchinlen Monastery, GPS decimal coordinates N47.92069 E106.89467 for 1500T and a the West Market N47.91118 E106.83569 for MNT1000 per bowl as of September 2010) This is a summer seasonal drink made from fermented mare’s milk, and is certainly an acquired taste. The alcohol content is less than that of beer, but can have noticeable effects. Be careful, if you aren’t accustomed to drinking sour milk products the first time might give you diarrhea as your stomach gets accustomed to it. This should only happen the first time though. Once you’ve completed the ritual, your digestive system shouldn’t complain again.

Mongolia drink photo

Photo by David Berkowitz

There are numerous ways to describe the taste, from bile-like to a mixture of lemonade and sour cream. The texture can also be offsetting to some people since it can be slightly gritty. It is worth keeping in mind that Airag is milk and a source of nutrients. After a day of riding it can actually be quite refreshing, once acquiring a taste for it. The first thing you will be served every time you visit a ger will be milk tea, which is essentially a cup of boiled milk and water, sometimes with a couple pieces of tea leaf thrown in for good measure.

You might want to build up your tolerance by drinking lots of milk in preparation for your stay because they don’t drink much else, except perhaps boiled water if you specially request it during a longer stay. Also, most traditional nomadic foods such as dried yogurt and the like require acclimatization to milk as well. Cold drinks don’t actually exist in the countryside (unless you intend to drink straight out of a river, generally not recommended). If you are in Mongolia especially in the country side try their National Home Made Vodka. It’s usually made from distilled yogurt or milk. It doesn’t have any weird taste. After you have your first shot of the vodka you won’t feel anything, but few minutes later it will get to your head. Most people in Mongolia usually drink this for medical reasons.

First you heat up the vodka then put in a little bit of special oil which is also made from milk. Careful don’t overheat it, you might get blind. Mongolians call their national vodka nermel areehk (“distilled vodka”) or changa yum (“tight stuff”). There are lots of Russian type Vodkas sold all over the country. The best ones are Chinggis Khaan vodka, Soyombo and Golden Chinggis. In Ulaanbaataar you can find most of Western beers, from Miller to Heineken. They sell Budweiser — not American Bud but the Czech Budweiser. Local beer, such as Chingiss, Gem Grand, Borgio or Sengur is fine.

Other local foods, or drinks that you recommend? Please add and comment.