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Suutei Tsai: Salty Milk Tea

This milk tea is unlike other milk teas found in Eastern Asia, with which Americans may be more familiar. In Mongolia, tsai is traditionally a herder’s drink, made from a simple recipe that includes salt, which creates a flavor profile that can take time for foreigners to become accustomed to. However, it’s a common beverage usually served with meals, including many of the dishes listed here, and is often offered by hosts to their guests, especially upon entering a family’s ger. The popularity of tsai means you will encounter it throughout the country, and you can even take some home in the form of a dehydrated packet.

Yak Butter and Yak Yogurt
Because cattle aren’t hardy enough for the steppes of Mongolia, the heavily-furred yak plays a more prominent role in Mongolian life and cuisine. Yaks produce a rich milk perfect for fueling hard working nomads living in extreme climates, and it lends itself well to other dairy products like butter and yogurt. The high fat content makes the butter closer in consistency to cheese, while the yogurt is thick with a sour flavor, though it’s sometimes served with sugar to complement the natural flavor.

Aaruul: Dried Cheese Curds
Commonly eaten in summer, aaruul is one of the primary dishes consumed by the nomadic peoples of Mongolia. Sheep, goat, cow, and yak are the most common providers of the milk needed to make aaruul, which can be flavored with herbs for a savory serving, or sugar and fruit for a sweeter preparation. Unlike the salty curds popularized in Canada and the Northern United States, aaruul has sour notes that make it stand out. No matter the form in which its presented – hard, soft, oily, sweet – you will benefit from the vitamins and calcium that have kept the teeth of nomadic Mongolians strong for centuries.

Boortsog: Fried Dough
Salt, sugar, water, butter, and flour become this fried dough treat, most often eaten with sugar, butter, or yogurt. Eaten throughout Central Asia and often equated with donuts, in Mongolia boortsog is more commonly dipped in tea (suutei tsai), like a biscuit or cookie. Typically cut into small squares or triangles, these flattened pieces of dough are then quickly fried in mutton fat or vegetable oil (depending on what the herder has on hand) and served in a bowl passed around the ger.

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