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Inner and Outer Mongolia

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Fall Volume: 2018 Issue: 25(3) pages: 27 to 29

There are two places with Mongolia in their name. One is a country land-locked with Russia to its north and China to its south. It is correctly called “The People’s Republic of Mongolia” and is a young independent sovereign nation slightly smaller than Alaska, but it is the nineteenth largest country in the world. There, three million people live in its capital city of Ulaanbaatar. One-third of the people in this country are under the age of fifteen. Other than this city, there are only a few smaller urban areas. Most of the country is grassland, and it is valuable land for feeding the many herds of sheep, goats, yaks, cattle, and camels that the people graze here in Outer Montolia.

Those tending these animals live in gers. These are round felt-lined tents taken down, packed up, and moved to a new locations in less than an hour. They can be reassembled in a bit more at the next place they go to where fresh grass is available for their animals. In addition, some Mongolians have permanent houses where they live in winter. It is in warmer weather that they live in these gers and move them and their animals as needed, to better grasslands.

The main food of those tending these herds is meat; lots of it. It is mostly mutton, beef, or yak, goat, lamb, camel, and other animals with four legs. They like their meat grilled over wood or charcoal, and we did too when we visited them for several meals. This meat was often spiced after its usual marinating in yogurt. These most hospitable hosts did love sharing their foods with their guests.

On the occasions we were there, we ate our meat bone in hand, devouring it. This huge bone was the utensil, holder, and napkin, and we had lots of meat at all main meals. With it was a scant supply of vegetables, mostly carrots and potatoes, a few grilled onions, and fewer mushrooms, most grilled. A few times before this main course, we had yogurt with or without cheese, and did drink lots of black tea made with butter, milk, and salt. There were alcoholic beverages, and mostly men enjoyed them. A few times, if late in the evening, there was fried rice or another fried grain food they called sutey tsai, and a few pieces of cheese called bislik. We noted but did not ask why pork was not served. When we got home, did ask a Mongolian friend who said it is common to accompany meals with flat breads, he never said anything about pork.

Inner and Outer Mongolia At one banquet they were roasting an entire sheep. It was on a spit, and they turned it periodically by hand. Just before the meal, each of us were handed a sharp hunting knife which we used to carve portions for eating. On this occasion, they served grilled mushrooms. We were told they do serve a whole animal on special occasions; and clearly this was one. Grilled large animals are served at weddings and other festive events, and beer and alcoholic beverages are served then, too.

There is another homeland with Mongolia in its name. It is Inner Mongolia, correctly called the ‘Inner Autonomous Mongolian Region.’ This homeland is part of China. It has several large cities, and many fewer grasslands for their animals. It is in China’s north, and many shorten its name simply to ‘Inner Mongolia.’ Most Mongolians live in one of these two places. Fewer live in other countries, including in the US. The American Mongolian population was written about in the 2017 Winter issue in Volume 24(4) of this magazine.

There is some confusion about one particular Mongolian tribe, namely the Ujimchin. They came to Inner Mongolia about four hundred years ago, no one really knowing from where or why. The only thing we learned to date is that ujim means ‘fruit’ and ‘chin’ means people, so we assume these folk who love to wear brightly clothes may have once been known for picking fruit in a southern ill-defined place, its location seems open to question. If they know where, they are not sharing it with us.

The first Mongolians in Outer Mongolia, did arrive at the collapse of the Qing Dynasty about 1911. As a country, they had declared independence from China in a bloodless transition years before, and did start a new government with a new economy. Years before, back in the 13th century, Europeans did call them Tartars, and they said they did eat the hearts and livers of foe they did slay. Many dispute this, and if you ask them, a few might say they did so to capture their spirits.

We could not clarify most stories about these Mongolians, but do know that Inner Mongolia has grown, population wise, and now has more than twenty-five million people, about eighty percent of Chinese heritage considered Han. Seventeen percent are of Mongolian heritage, two percent Manchu, one percent Hui or others practicing Islam, and very few other Chinese minorities.

Genghis Khan, who was called Temujin as a boy (it means ‘blacksmith’),did bring more than twenty-five Mongolian tribes under his rule. He was admired as a unifier, and later, his son Ogodei expanded his achievements, and sent Mongol armies rampaging east and west.

Kublai Khan died in 1294 at the age of seventy-0ne and he did leave Mongolians unified. He proclaimed himself the founder of this adopted land and did start China’s Yuan Dynasty. He centrally located its capital and called it ‘Daidu’ or ‘Great Capital.’ We now call this city, Beijing.

He and other Mongol leaders did tax their subjected people by their population numbers, the quality of their land, the number of their large animals, and how many tools they owned. It was by household and payable in grain. There also did tax all transactions, in flour or rice; this tax was for their armies. There was an additional tax on their valuable possessions.

Most Mongolians in both Outer and Inner Mongolia speak their language, and some write using Huihui or ancient Uygur. Most are monogamous and are easily recognizable as they wear an outer woolen garment called a mengpao. Many own a thousand or more large animals preferring big fat ones because they survive their brutal winters better than small ones.

Most also like their meat with lots of fat on it. Without fat, they say their meat is unappetizing. They also like bordzig, deep-fried pastry for breakfast, and they like it with milk or butter tea. They told us they like all white or red foods at most meals, and use white food medicine to cure any disorders they may have. They like to cool their inner heat, and activate their blood, and said white foods do this best. It strengthens their bodies, heals their wounds, purifies their blood, helps prevent their arteries from hardening, controls their blood pressure, and assists other disorders they may have or acquire.

Several families said they do slaughter a camel once a year, collect and dry its dung to heat their gers, and they believe the particles from their country’s extensive mining of coal, iron ore, and rare earths is why they have the highest rate of liver cancer in the world.

No matter where they live, their governments virtually did eliminated their high illiteracy by 1952, did mandate English in all their schools by fourth grade, improved their life expectancy, and did help them acquire a better life than before. That includes their having television, carpets, lots to eat, and much more. I asked if they still cook in their metal helmets and they laughed and told me the answer was they never did. They said they have many pots and pans and eat more and more complex foods than ever before. The recipes below are from two Mongolian families.

Beef Soup

5 pounds of beef bones with their marrow
2 Large onions, peeled and sliced (optional)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 large potato, peeled and cut into medium chunks
pepper, to taste


1. Simmer the bones in six quarts of water for two hours, then discard any fat, and cut off meat and return it to a cleaned pot.
2. Add garlic, salt, and potato pieces and simmer for two hours, return bones, and salt and pepper, and the bones, if desired. Heat then serve.

Mongolian Beef With Vegetables

1 pound beef, thinly sliced
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
1 teaspoon water chestnut flour
4 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
3 slices fresh ginger, slivered
1 pound Napa cabbage, thinly shredded
1 green pepper, seeded and shredded
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
1 leek, washed well, then shredded
salt and pepper to taste
3 parsley sprigs, cut into half-inch pieces


1. Wipe beef slices with paper towels, then marinate in mixture of wine, sugar, soy sauce, bouillon powder, water chestnut flour, and half the oil for forty minutes. Then drain, and set liquid aside.
2. Heat rest of the oil in a wok or fry pan, add the ginger and stir-fry one minute, then add beef and stir-fry one more minute, then add Napa cabbage, pepper, carrot, and leek slivers and stir-fry for two minutes until barely soft before adding salt and pepper and stir. Remove and serve in a pre-heated bowl, parsley put on top.

Grilled Lamb, Mongolian Style

1 three to four year old whole lamb, innards discarded, and on a spit
5 scallions, each tied in a knot
10 cloves garlic
10 Sichuan peppercorns
3 Tablespoons ground ginger
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
½ cup dark soy sauce
½ cup sesame oil


1. Wipe the cavity of the lamb, remove and discard all the organs. Dry with paper towels, use organs another time.
2. Then, into the cavity, put the scallion knots, garlic, ginger, Sichuan peppercorns, and salt, and tightly sew it closed.
3. Rub soy sauce and sesame oil several times on the exterior and let this rest for half an hour.
4. Grill this using a spit and turn it often for four hours or roast it in a Peking Duck oven.
5. When done, take it off the spit and give each person a large knife to cut off and enjoy their favorite parts, or cut off chunks and put them on a large platter placed in the center of the table.
6. If available, give them wet towels to wipe their hands.

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