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Mongolian-Chinese in the US

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Winter Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(4) pages: 10 to 12


The ‘hot pot,’ also known as the ‘fire pot,’ is usually credited to the Mongolians. It is usually brass with a central funnel filled with hot coals, has a surrounding bowl with liquid where pieces of meat and vegetables cook in the liquid in it, then enjoyed by diners cooking their foods in it. Classically, it featured lamb, cabbage, and other foods, usually eaten in Fall and Winter, an eating experience some refer to as their Chrysanthemum Hotpot meal. It is now enjoyed in Beijing and other northern cities and their countryside and wherever Mongolians live these days, the United States included.

Mongolia is a land-locked country north of China and south of the Soviet Union. It is six hundred and four thousand square miles, and is the eighteenth largest country by land mass in the world after Iran. More than three million people are its inhabitants, ninety-seven percent of them nomads.

About twice the size of Texas, some call it ‘the land of extremes’ because it has no sea to moderate its climate and little humidity. It has more than two hundred fifty days of sunshine annually. Others call it the ‘Land of Genghis Khan’ because he founded the Mongol Empire in 1206. His son Kublai Khan founded China’s Yuan Dynasty; and after the death of his father, it was split into four Khanates.

The capital of this country is Ulaanbaatar; it has a population of about one and a half million people. This city had Neolithic beginnings (circa 5500 BCE), and now has twenty-one provinces. This capital city is an equal political entity. Correctly called ‘Mongolian People’s Republic,’ it was founded in 1928.

Most of its nomads live in gers once called yurts. Now it does require twelve years of primary and secondary education. Currently, sixty percent of its youth enroll in college. This is the world’s oldest nomadic civilization still herding their animals. They also mine many minerals including but not limited to copper and tin, and they extract lots of coal.

Their southern neighbor is Inner Mongolia, not a country but a political jurisdiction of China correctly titled ‘Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region.’ It has about twenty-five million people, five percent are Kazakh, Russian, and Korean, the rest are Mongolian Chinese whose main diet is meat and milk, the meat from their sheep, cattle, goats, camels, and horses. They eat them all, and most like them roasted. Their milk they like dried, and they call these curds aaruul. When eating out, they often order chicken or fish.

These days, many more Mongolians live outside of Mongolia; the United States one such place. Their country gained independence from China in 1911 and ten years later became a satellite of the Soviet Union. Then, in 1990, it gained independence.

Mongolians who went to other countries came to places where there were almost no nomads, no one was seeking pasture for their animals as they had in Mongolia whether Mongolians, Kalmyks, Buryats, and others who did live there.

A good number of them also came to the US from Inner Mongolia. Many did go to work with Owen Lattimore on the East Asian Affairs Program based at John Hopkins University, not all living there. Some came from Europe in the early 1950s, others from Taiwan and India, and still others came later after the 1990s collapse of the Soviet Union. These Mongolian folk now number about five thousand and are living in many places in the US including Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, West Virginia, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, California, and Illinois.

Most of them retain much of their heritage, many work with American counterparts, their children attending American schools. Some work for American TV and radio, others for social media and all kinds of work places. Most are slowly acculturating, some intermarrying non- Mongolians, some not liking that they are slowly eroding or abandoning their heritage.

Before and since coming to the US, many Mongolians still use their lunar calendar, many still use the Chinese zodiac, and some now practice Western arts such as oil painting and metal sculpture, others writing poetry and in other literary areas.

Except at special events, most wear Western-style clothing, though some do wear a del, their long gownlike item made of wool and a bright sash around their waist. They also sport high boots and a fox-skinned hat called a toortsog. Most are between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five and did first come to the US for college or graduate school. When ill, many still prefer Tibetan or Mongolian doctors and many still use folk medicine.

Most Mongolian immigrants speak English and their tribal language, a part of the Uralic-Altaic language family. They write a phonetic Cyrillic script or one close to Uighur; and more women than men try to preserve their Mongolian culture in their foods and in life-cycle events including marriage practices. Many of these are related to Tibetan Buddhism, and they do so if they have young children.

Their Mongolian food is retained especially during holidays and at ceremonial events; they still drink lots of tea with evaporated milk, butter, and nutmeg, or airag, the fermented milk of their female horses. They like nermel, their home-brewed vodka, tarag, their homemade sour yogurt, and they use a lot of shar tos, their melted butter mixed with curds, flour, and fruit. Many also make bortsk, a cake baked with yeast and flour, then fried in oil. They call that khuushuur.

They also make lots of buuz, their steamed dumplings and snack on them any time of the day or night. For main meals, they prefer their malchan, a boiled lamb and onion dish with bulmuk, a flour-based gravy. Their elders still drink tarag, a fermented milk. During their ‘white month’ celebrated at the start of the Lunar New Year which is at the end of January or the beginning of February, they make and eat many Mongolian foods as they do on other less-celebrated holidays.

They do celebrate Urus-Ova during a week-end in summer to honor Buddha, and Shagj-muni in the middle of winter. They honor Chinggis Khan at the three-day July Festival called Naadam, known in their language as Eviin Gurban Naadam. At this holiday, they watch or participate in horse racing, and in archery contests and wrestling events. At this Mongolian celebration, they do make and eat many of the above-mentioned foods.

Many Mongolians prefer living in Chinese-American or Vietnamese-American communities where they do know others who came to the US on student visas. They maintain this comradery and now belong to Mongolian- American Cultural Associations to continue it. If you want to try their meat-milk-flour dependent foods, do prepare one or more of them below or try them at one or more Mongolian restaurants. They are in many states in the US. Look them up on the web or a local telephone directory. Some are called as are those in Flushing NY, Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot; Little Lamb Restaurant; or Happy Family Little Lamb Restaurant. There are these and those known by other names in many of the states they moved to. They like these dishes and their hot pots; also check them out in this magazine’s index and in other places.

Buuz
Ingredients:

½ cup dried Chinese red beans
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
½ cup pastry flour
1 pound ground lamb
1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 scallions, minced
½ cup minced celery and cilantro
2 Tablespoons and 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons coarse salt
3 black mushrooms, soaked, stems discarded, then minced
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
2 Tablespoons flour

Preparation:

1. Mix both flours with two tablespoons boiling water and knead until smooth, then cover and rest dough for half an hour.
2. Mix lamb with the minced ginger, garlic, scallions, celery, and cilantro, then add tablespoons of vegetable oil, the salt, minced mushrooms, and cornstarch. Then add two tablespoons boiling water and stir well, and set this filling aside to rest for fifteen minutes.
3. Roll the dough into a rope forty inches long and cut it into one-inch pieces. Roll each piece until thin, about two and a half inches in diameter and dust each one with a little flour before stacking them.
4. Next, fill each round with a tablespoon of the filling, wet the edges very lightly, and pleat them shut, putting them on a cookie sheet but not touching each other. (These can be frozen until firm for later use, then put in a six ml plastic bag, sealed and frozen) or boiled immediately until they rise to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon and tossed with the rest of the oil and served.

Lamb Pastries
Ingredients:

same filling material as for the Buuz
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper substituted for the garlic
1/4 cup black vinegar
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil for frying

Preparation:

1. Mix filling as for the Buuz substituting black pepper for the minced garlic, and refrigerate covered over night.
2. Make wrappers the same way as for the Buuz.
3. Use four tablespoons of boiling water and three more of cool water kneading the dough and until smooth. Then cover it with a towel and allow it to rest for half an hour before cutting it into four pieces. Roll each into a rectangle ten inches square.
4. On one piece of dough, add one-eighth of the filling on half the dough and fold it over. Put another eighth of the filling on half the now smaller rectangle, wet the edges and pinch them closed. Repeat until all dough and filling has been used providing four multi-layers squares making four multi-layered squares, their edges wet and pinched closed with a fork.
5. Heat a fry pan, add the oil, and gently fry as many as fit on each side until golden brown; repeating with those as yet not fried.

Mongolian Meat
Ingredients:

2 pounds boneless lamb, venison, or dark meat chicken, cut into two-inch thin strips
salt and pepper, to taste
1 Tablespoon Chinese white vinegar
3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce, divided in half
2 Tablespoons honey or maltose
½ teaspoon brown sugar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 Tablespoon lard
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
5 scallions, coarsely minced
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
1 cup soaked until soft, dried Chinese black mushrooms squeezed of their liquid, slivered
1 Tablespoon sesame seeds

Preparation:

1. Marinate meat with salt and pepper, vinegar, and half the soy sauce for half an hour.
2. Mix other half of the soy sauce with honey or maltose, the cornstarch, and three tablespoons cold water, and set this aside.
3. Heat the lard and vegetable oil, add the scallion pieces and the chopped onion and stir-fry until they are soft, then add the meat mixture, and stir-fry until no longer pink.
4. Then add the honey mixture and the mushrooms, and continue to stir-fry for three minutes more.
5. Add the sesame seeds, toss quickly, and serve on a pre-heated platter.

Mongolian Hot Pot
Ingredients:

½ pound beef fillet. Slivered
½ pound boneless pork cutlet. Slivered
1 whole boneless chicken breast, slivered
½ pound skinless and boneless white meat fish fillet
1 pound tiger shrimp, cut the long way then in half
5 ounces bamboo shoots, cut in half-inch strips
4 ounces snow peas, stings removed, cut in half the long way
1/4 cup baby corn, cut in half the long way
4 ounces canned straw mushrooms, cut in half the long way
½ firm bean curd, cut in long strips
2 ounces soaked rice noodles, cut in two-inch pieces
8 cups chicken stock
2 chicken bouillon cubes
5 slices fresh ginger, slivers
2 stick celery, cut in two-inch pieces then slivered
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 scallions, cut in two-inch pieces then slivered
1 large bowl cooked rice, to be shared by all
1 egg, per person, if desired

Preparation:

1. Plate carefully all meat, fish, seafood, mushrooms, and bean curd, and all other vegetables so diners can help themselves. Adjust the amounts, above is intended for four people. It can be doubled or divided, as needed.
2. Heat hot pot with coals or electricity, as designed, and put the chicken stock and the bouillon cubes, the fresh ginger slivers, celery, sesame oil, and the scallion slivers in the ring, and when hot, seat diners with long-handled forks and chopsticks for each person, and rice bowls, and a n egg, if desired.
3. Bring ring with the stock to the boil and let diners cook any foods on the platter to their desired doneness. When all foods on the platter are consumed or as much taken as desired, diners can break their egg into the liquid or cook it in its shell, as desired, then eat it and the stock, as they prefer.

                                                                                                                                                       
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