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Mongolian Foods and Beverages by Cathy Ang
Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods
Spring Volume: 2000 Issue: 7(1) page(s): 7 and 8
Because of the unique geographic locations of Mongolia and Tibet, foods and beverages of these regions exhibit unique characteristics. Literature about this area is scarce and most appears as popular articles. This article about the foods of Mongolia follows one about Tibet that I wrote for the September 1999 issue of Flavor and Fortune on page 21.
Unlike the Han majority people that live in China, dairy products are important dietary items for China's Mongolian population. They refer to dairy products as white foods and meat products or animal flesh as red foods. Raw materials for white foods include milk from cows, horses, sheep, goats, camels, and reindeer; with horse milk considered having the highest of nutrients. Cow's milk is quite popular, considered healthy, too, and used for a variety of products.
Ten major dairy products are listed below. They are followed by a section about the grain products Mongolians consume, other animal foods they eat that are not dairy products, and their non-dairy teas. For additional information about Mongolians and their food, see the article titled: Mongolians and Their Cuisine on page 9 in this issue.
Liquid butter: This can be made from the milk of cows, sheep, goats and camels. To make it, fresh milk is poured into an earthen jar or a wooden barrel. This stands at sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, our room temperature, for six to eight hours. The milk, then partially coagulated, becomes light yellow and forms a thick, semi-solid layer with about two or three portions of liquid butter to ten portions of milk. The liquid butter is served with sugar and fried millet, used in vegetables or tea, and as a spread on bread.
White butter: There are two ways to make white butter. One is to put the liquid butter into a cheese cloth sack made of a course cloth. This is hung until all the liquid. Sometimes they stir it, and as they do the liquid butter separates from the solids. Another way is to stir sour, yeast fermented milk into it to separate the white butter from the liquid. This does need stirring for what they say is: several thousands times.
Yellow butter: This is made from white butter. Either fresh or sour, white butter is heated in a pot until the yellow butter-oil is melted. This is separated from the white butter cream. Milk from cows, sheep, goats and camels can be used for white as well as for yellow butter. It is interesting to note that Mongolian people often take a bowl of yellow butter with them before starting on a long journey. They use it then or at home served with pan fried millet and pancakes.
Milk tofu: This food item can be made from either raw or cooked milk. To make raw milk tofu, Mongolians put milk in a warm area until it ferments. A ladle is used to stir it occasionally until coagulated. It forms a tofu-like texture. They then transfer the contents to a mold or a sack to drain off the liquid and then they let it air dry. To make cooked milk tofu, the liquid from making the white butter or the liquid from making milk film (see below) is fermented, coagulated, and filtered through a cheesecloth sack. The coagulated milk is heated while stirring it until it becomes thick. It is then placed in a cloth sack pressing the yellow liquid out. The remaining solids are placed in a wooden mold, square or rectangular shaped, and left to air dry. The Mongolians consider the best milk tofu to be white. This product is often air-dried for storage; that prevents molding. Dried milk tofu is used for milk tea; it is also used by shepherds and long distance travelers.
Milk film is also known as milk leather. To make this milk product, people heat fresh milk in a pot at low temperatures stirring until it foams. Then they cool it and a layer of cream coagulates on top. This layer is removed as a film or skin and air-dried in a well ventilated place. The process is similar to how the Han people make bean curd sticks.
Sour milk: This milk product is made from raw milk or cooked milk. To do so, the milk is kept at about sixty-four degrees Fahrenheit in jars and allowed to ferment for about two days. The milk appears to form chucks. When making sour milk from cooked milk, the milk is boiled first and needs to sit a while longer until it gets slightly sour.
Milk tea: This tea is also referred to as Mongolian Tea. It is the most important beverage used by the Mongolians and their shepherds. To make milk tea, brick tea is crushed into pieces then boiled for three minutes with water. While boiling, it is constantly stirred. Fresh milk is slowly added to this tea in proportions of one part milk to three to six parts water. A little salt is sometimes added. Milk tea can be served with some fried millet in it.
Milk wine: This beverage is made with any type of milk, the most valuable and famous made using horse milk. To make milk wine the Mongolians use raw milk and put it into a wooden barrel or porcelain jar. There, it is allowed to ferment and separate itself from the fat. The fermented milk without its top layer of fat is transferred to a pot equipped with a distillation devise. This is usually a bucket of cold water placed above two brick jars covered and insulated with towels. The heat under the pot is kept at a high temperature, the evaporated alcohol condensing underneath the cold water bucket where it drips into the prepared brick jars. The most expensive horse wine is fermented and distilled six times. Horse milk wine tastes sour, sweet, and slightly bitter all at the same time.
Cheese: After removal of yellow butter, the remaining buttermilk is left to ferment in a warm place until the milk is coagulated as chunks and pieces resembling cottage cheese.
Milk pie: After the above cheese gets sour, sugar and flour are added and shaped. At this point, the cheese is baked. Milk pie is used as a dessert.
Millet: This is one of the most important grain products that Mongolians eat. Millet can be cooked with water as you would cook rice or cooked with even higher proportions of water than used when making rice congee. However, the most unique Mongolian grain food is millet pan-fried. Made this way, pan-fried millet is used as ready-to-serve cereal. It is also a common practice for Mongolians to add pan-fried millet to their milk tea, as already indicated.
Fried flour: Mongolians eat buckwheat, wheat, oats, and millet. They fry the flour of any of these at low temperatures adding sugar to one or another of them. The fried flour is used as a dry staple.
Millet and flour cookies: To make their cookie batter, fried millet and fried flour are mixed together, sugar, yellow butter, and milk added. The cookies are formed by hand and then baked.
Fried pie: To make this typical Mongolian food one mixes flour, yellow butter, egg, and sugar then forms them into a pie shaped pancake and pan-fries them.
Steamed layer bread: This is made with the same batter as the fried pie but instead steamed until done and not fried.
OTHER ANIMAL FOODS:
Lots of livestock is raised in Mongolia. This includes but is not limited to wild horse, sheep, goat, cow, and camel. Though all of these animals are available, Mongolians do not eat much beef, pork or horse meat. The most popular meats consumed are goat and sheep. Lamb is barbecued whole or is grilled or boiled in smaller pieces. Camel used to be more popular, but with all too few of them now, some regions forbid eating them. No matter the meat, Mongolians roast, grill, smoke, and dry them all and they adore eating them.
OTHER TEA BEVERAGES:
Tea in Mongolia are categorized by color type. There are three color categories. The red tea that the Han Chinese drink is referred to as black tea and it is enjoyed in Mongolia. They drink Jasmine tea and call it yellow tea. The third type, brick tea is called blue tea. This latter type of tea is the most popular, some say because of convenience in carrying it around. Nowadays, most brick teas used by Mongolians come from India.
Tea drinking is natural and important in Mongolia. Tea beverages such as milk tea (described above) are very popular. Tea is consumed at each of the three main meals every day; tea is served to guestst it is the beverage of choice at all snack times and used whenever someone is thirsty. In addition to regular tea, flowers, leaves, and stems of some locally grown plants are also used to make tea and other beverages.
Cathy Ang (formerly Yung-kang Wang) is a research chemist working for the Food and Drug Administration in Jefferson, Arkansas. She is also one of the editors of the book called 'Asian Foods' reviewed in Volume 6(3) of this magazine, on page 22. She wrote this article from items mostly found in technical literature, and has provided the editor with references for those who want or need them. Be advised that many are in Chinese.