Posted on: Tuesday December 10, 2013
The unrelenting steppes of Mongolia gave rise to a number of formidable nomadic tribes (Huns, Scythians, Mongols) and eventually one of the largest continuous stretches of empire ever seen in world history. The redoubtable Genghis Khan is credited with engineering a large part of this remarkable expansion. It might be asked if an army marches on its stomach, there must be some essential truths built into Mongolian cuisine that makes for unbeatable warriors.
The Mongolian diet traditionally relies heavily on the yield and meat of domesticated animals, particular sheep, and the popular dishes of buuz, khuushuur and bansh reveal ample evidence of this. The widespread rearing of ungulates also means a good supply of dairy and some original dairy products such as the fermented product of horse milk known as airag and a kind of vodka obtained by distilling yoghurt. Vegetables feature minimally in the Mongolian diet owing to a largely inhospitable landscape that is not easily cultivable.
It is the traditional Mongolian meat processing traditions that have above all caught on in popularity around the world. Steaming and boiling are popular methods for dealing with meat but grilling has a special place and is in fact is not hard to picture battle hardened soldiers roasting meat on a cool, starry night in the Mongolian dessert. There is also borts, prepared through carefully drying strips of meat, ensuring it is preserved for several months. Beguiling baked gigot, grilled lamb and hot pot (Mongolia is considered the birthplace of the regional tradition) introduce us to the uniquely compelling foods born of hardship but the ultimately surmounting power of human will and ingenuity.