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Mongolian and Manchu Food

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Regional Foods

Fall Volume: 2019 Issue: 26(3) pages: 31 to 33

two ethnic minorities are often confused. They do speak different languages, eat different foods, and have many different holidays.

The Manchurians live by hunting, fishing, and farming, the Mongolians by herding their animals, consuming meat and milk, the latter often as cheese. Manchurians mostly live in China in the Northeastern Plain. Both are tall and fair-skinned, and often both wear many of the same kinds of clothing.

This magazine did discuss Manchurians, also called the Manchu, in Volume 7(1) on page 9 and Volume 13(4) on page 19. These Tungusic-speaking people originated in China’s Northeast, some called them ‘Masters of the Grasslands,’ and they helped the Ming Dynasty start a Dynasty in 1368 CE. This large ethnic population, in China’s 2010 census, were counted as about eleven million people, they lived in most of China’s thirty-one provinces and in Inner Mongolia, and in Mongolia, the independent country next door. Their largest numbers live in China’s Liaoning Province, smaller numbers in the Hebei, Heilongjiang, Jilin and Yunnan Provinces; and many in Inner Mongolia. Others live in Beijing and some twelve thousand live in Taiwan.

Genghis Khan succeeded in unifying most of their tribes and he established a unified regime that expanded to Central Asia and Southern Russia under the leadership of China’s Communist party. They were the first ethnic group to establish their own autonomous region, it had nine prefectures, and its own Altaic language with several dialects.

Their spoken and written languages were unique at that time, now most speak Mandarin learning it in school, so younger folk can speak, read, and write Mandarin, their elders still reading and speaking Manchurian, but not their younger folk.

Several of these elders told us Manchurian is almost extinct, but some believe it having a resurgence, particularly around Xinjiang. This ethnic population are from two ancient groups, both Jurchen with origins from the Qin Dynasty (221 - 207 BCE), known as Xiongnu and Donghu, many from tribes brought together before and by Genghis Kahn. Their descendants came from the northern dry steppe region needing irrigation but able to grow enough grain for themselves and their animals.

Most did live in yurts covered with felt, and now they no longer move them around. Most did dress in clothes made of felt with a primary diet of meat and dairy from their own animals. They used to consume lots of buttermilk and kumiss, drank fermented mare’s milk, and ate many ‘white’ foods called chaganyide which means ‘pure and noble’ and their fingers or off the end of their hunting knives, but do less of all of things now.

They still love lamb and beef, adore sheep tails with their high fat content, and still like them roasted and chewy, still eat many organ meats, though less than their parents did. Most no longer serve them on dried lamb skin, but do still like them with lots of bread many call their ‘cookies,’ and many still do grow and eat the grains they raise to make them.

Historians believe these people were probably Sushen and known in the first millennium BCE as Yilou, and then in 220 CE were known as Wuji people, and in the 5th century called the Mohe people. Only later were they known as the Jurchen. Many still love entertaining and hosting large banquets, and now many live near Han people, so have intermarried with them. Only a small number still preserve their original culture, but many do know about it.

These days, most of them eat lots of pork as do the Han, and eat lots of lamb and beef, but no longer eat camel and deer as they can not get them because they are in short supply. Many love and make pancakes and sometimes stuff them with some of these or other meats when they can get them.

Each of the two articles already mentioned have four recipes and one soup. We recommend you seek them out at www.flavorandfortune.com to learn about them, even enjoy them and others found on other web sites, in cookbooks, and in other articles. These days, one can enjoy their food in Chinese barbecue restaurants as there is little barbecue cooking in homes except for that done outdoors as indoors it needs special venting to meet fire and health codes.

We found Manchurians very hospitable, liking to gather and share edible wild plants if they went looking for them, particularly leafy ones. They told us they like to eat them raw or boiled in a stew, or to flavor other dishes, but as finding them is no longer as easy as it was for their folks, so they use them in small quantities even if dried or pickled.

If you get to Harbin as we did a few years back, you can taste some of their starchy staples and wild foods such as those in the Liliaceae and Compositae families. They told us to look for them in the Spring, many are in the Allium, Capsella, Sanchus, and Taraxacum families; and one chap told us his family likes those related to lily bulbs, cattails, cocklebur, and fox nut best. Another said his father and friends emigrated from Hopei and Shantung in China but no longer seek them out as they require lots of walking and now are too old to do so.

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