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Inner and Outer Mongolia
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.