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Ulanqab Foods in Inner Mongolia

by Wang Si
China Correspondent

Chinese Ethnic Minorities and Their Foods

Winter Volume: 2019 Issue: 26() pages: 7 to 8


In summer, I attended a food festival in Ulanqab called the ‘China-Mongolia-Russian Food Culture Festival’. This eighth annual event had more than two million locals, others too, wanting to see it in this central area of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. It borders on Mongolia, has many connections with them and with Russia. Now, more than ninety-five percent are Han moved here with help from the Chinese government. They encouraged them to do so, and now they love it. Mainly settled in places known as the Chayouqi or Siziwanqi Banners; Banners are typical names of places here, so-named when the Qing Dynasty’s army controlled this area.

Huns swept south and took this area in the third century BCE. They were a nomadic tribe most likely from somewhere between the Eastern edge of the Altai Mountains and the Caspian Sea. Today this is about where modern Kazakhstan is.

Before the Qing Dynasty, there were many ethnic groups occupying the area here including the Toba, Xianbei, Tujue, Qidan, Nuzhen, Tatar, Waci, and Mongolians. All were Northern nomadic folk who have since either disappeared or ceased to exist after other groups took over, often one by one. Considered ‘people on the horse’ and not ‘people in the fields,’ they did make their living by grazing and hunting. As described by Sima Qian (145 - 86 BCE) in his Records of the Grand Historian, they kept moving around seeking water and grass for themselves and their animals and using them to make meat and dairy products.

In their language, the word chaganyide is their word for dairy products, literally meaning ‘white foods.’ It symbolizes ‘pure and holy foods’ while wulanyide means ‘red foods’ and refers to all meat items. Typical Mongolian white foods are milk tea, yogurt, fermented milk curds which are similar to cheeses, milk skin foods, and horse milk wine called kumis. Their favorite red foods are mutton and beef; they make and love them different ways.

Of course, urbanization and immigration have impacted their culture. Ulanqab had and still has many nomadic food behaviors. The tourism and catering industries have changed some of them. In the Yellow Flower Valley, also known as Huitengxile, gorgeous gowns, boots, and dance horse riding are now somewhat different. Many of their current ‘local products’ now relate to health, caring, and exotica. And during this food festival, roasted whole sheep and other whole roasted animals were served free for all to taste and enjoy. Locals got theirs to share, too.

Mr. Lang, chairing the Inner Mongolian Association for Catering and Hospitality, has planned this for eighteen years; and he invited me to the dinner in the most popular Mongolian restaurant called Muma Ren in the central square of the city. It was decorated with many Mongolian items including a ger which is a Mongolian tent-like home they usually live in. He and Mr. Yun, a senior officer, told us their lives have been improved, their incomes, too, thanks to this corporation and its annual festival.

Last year, Mr. Lang and his association edited a book about their cuisine. It is titled: Mongolian Meal: The Ninth Cuisine in China, and was published by Standards Press of China, its ISBN is 9787506687089. It includes Mongolian dishes and meals. They proudly showed us several potatoes and white soup, all pictured below.

  

You might ask what is Mongolian cuisine, let me advise this book defines it as inheriting and innovating traditional foodways, and integrating food customs from all ethnic groups in Inner Mongolia. They include beef, mutton, dairy products, and edible plants from the grasslands. Its cooking techniques include the ways they grill, roast, steam, boil, simmer, and pan-fry. It uses ingredients and methods from other areas of China, all made and served Mongolian style. Despite the geographic environment and nomadic foods of their history, this book has collected and created many recipes since the Period of Reform and Opening of China.

At Mongolian meals, a tradition is to boil a two-year old sheep with no salt or seasonings, then add lots of dried noodles at the meal’s end. The original book was written by Husi Hui and called Essentials of Dietetics (Yinshan Zhengyao,1330), Mongolians still enjoy high protein food including milk tea served in a wooden bowl with small pieces of milk skin, milk curd, and crispy millet. Milk skin is a thick layer of solid cream. Milk curd is a kind of cheese.

In recent years, they were ruled by the Han, and since the Qing Dynasty, locals have added grains and vegetables, most often potatoes and oats to their foods. At our Mongolian meal, we learned that this city has a China Potato Museum and an Oat Museum, and that both show how these and other foods supplement Mongolian foods. They have increased people’s health and the local ecology, been added to Mongolian foods and they now include dim sum made with potatoes in them and in their wrappers. Potatoes and/or oats are also in local pies, local breads, and other local foods. Boiled lamb is served with soy sauce and chili sauce as dips and they season their loved local meat with them.

                                                                                                                                                       
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