yak, nomads, traditional

Mongolia, a vast and sparsely populated country, offers a food culture that is deeply intertwined with its nomadic heritage and the extreme climatic conditions. Traditional Mongolian cuisine primarily revolves around meat and dairy products, with a few vegetables and spices due to the harsh climate that limits agricultural growth. The diet here is heavily influenced by the lifestyles of nomads who move their herds across the steppes, relying on the animals for sustenance.

Meat, especially from livestock like sheep, goats, cattle, and horses, is a staple, often prepared in ways that preserve it for long periods. Popular methods include boiling and drying. Dairy products also play a significant role in the daily diet, with items such as airag (fermented horse milk), tarag (fermented yogurt), and various types of cheese being essential.

Mongolian cooking techniques are simple but effective, designed to provide maximum nutrition and energy. Meals are typically hearty, with a focus on high calorie content to withstand the cold. A traditional Mongolian ger (yurt) often contains a central stove used for both heating and cooking, making stews and soups popular dishes.

The Top 11 Dishes in Mongolia

Here is a list of the top dishes that are essential for visitors to try when in Mongolia, reflecting the variety and depth of its traditional cuisine:

  1. Buuz – Steamed dumplings filled with minced meat, usually mutton or beef, seasoned with onion or garlic and cooked during the Mongolian Lunar New Year but available year-round.
  2. Khuushuur – A type of fried meat pastry or dumpling. The meat, which is also typically mutton or beef, is encased in a dough and then fried, resulting in a crispy outside and juicy inside.
  3. Borts – Dried meat that has been preserved naturally by the cold and dry climate. It is often rehydrated and used in soups and stews.
  4. Tsuivan – A noodle stew that includes a variety of meats and vegetables, showcasing the nomadic lifestyle’s reliance on dried and stored ingredients that can be quickly cooked.
  5. Guriltai Shul – A hearty noodle soup with meat, often enjoyed as a filling and warming dish during Mongolia’s cold winters.
  6. Khorkhog – A traditional barbecue dish made by cooking meat (usually mutton) with hot stones inside a closed container, creating a distinctive flavor and tenderness.
  7. Airag – Fermented mare’s milk, a traditional Mongolian beverage that is slightly alcoholic and a staple at social and ceremonial gatherings.
  8. Boodog – Another barbecue-style dish, typically made with goat or marmot, cooked with hot stones placed inside the carcass to cook the meat from the inside out.
  9. Bantan – A simple and satisfying dish made with dough crumbs cooked in mutton broth, often used to soothe the stomach.
  10. Aaruul – Dried curds made from milk, often seasoned and left to harden in the sun. Aaruul can be sweet or sour, and it’s a staple snack that provides high-energy sustenance.
  11. Mongolian Tea (Süütei Tsai) – A salty milk tea that is consumed throughout the day, providing hydration and nutrition. It is made with water, milk, tea leaves, and salt.

These dishes provide a deep dive into Mongolia’s culinary traditions, shaped by both the environment and the nomadic lifestyle of its people.

What Foods, Flavors, and Ingredients is Mongolia Most Famous For?

Mongolia’s culinary profile is defined by its reliance on animal husbandry, given the country’s challenging climate and terrain, which is not conducive to extensive agriculture. Here are some of the key ingredients, flavors, and popular foods you’ll encounter in Mongolia:

  • Meat: Predominantly mutton, followed by beef, camel, and horse meat. Meat is not only a source of protein but also essential for surviving the harsh winters, and it’s used in virtually every aspect of Mongolian cuisine.
  • Dairy Products: A variety of dairy products are crucial in the Mongolian diet, including aaruul (dried curds), tarag (yogurt), byaslag (cheese), and airag (fermented horse milk). These are consumed daily and are vital for nutrition.
  • Flour and Grains: While not as prevalent as meat and dairy, grains such as wheat and barley are used in noodles and dumplings, integral parts of Mongolian meals like tsuivan and buuz.
  • Root Vegetables: Onions and garlic are common, used to flavor many dishes. Other root vegetables like potatoes and carrots are occasionally used but are not as central to the diet.
  • Spices and Seasonings: Mongolian cuisine is not typically spicy. It is characterized by subtle flavors, focusing on the natural tastes of the ingredients with minimal seasoning beyond salt and sometimes black pepper.

This reliance on basic, hearty ingredients results in a cuisine that is both nourishing and suited to the nomadic lifestyle, allowing for preservation and easy preparation under nomadic conditions.

What is the National Dish of Mongolia?

Mongolia’s national dish is Buuz. These are steamed dumplings that hold a special place in the hearts and diets of Mongolians. Traditionally made during the Mongolian Lunar New Year, known as Tsagaan Sar, buuz are now widely available and consumed year-round.

Buuz are filled with minced meat—typically mutton or beef—seasoned with onion or garlic and sometimes with salt and pepper. The filling is encased in a dough made from flour and water, then pinched at the top to seal before being steamed. This cooking method preserves the meat’s juiciness and flavor, making buuz a warming and satisfying dish.

The preparation of buuz is often a family activity, with each member participating in the filling and shaping of the dumplings. It’s not just a meal but a cultural ritual, symbolizing unity and the celebration of Mongolian heritage

Other Famous Dishes in Mongolia?

While Buuz holds the title of the national dish, Khuushuur is another incredibly popular and widely recognized Mongolian dish, often considered one of the most famous. This dish is similar to Buuz in terms of its ingredients but differs significantly in its cooking method.

Khuushuur is a type of fried dumpling. The dough is rolled out flat, filled with minced meat (typically mutton or beef), seasoned with onions, salt, and garlic, then folded into a half-moon shape and deep-fried until crisp. The result is a juicy filling encased in a crunchy exterior, making it a beloved snack and a staple at local festivals and gatherings.

Khuushuur is especially popular during the Naadam festival, Mongolia’s most significant cultural event, featuring traditional sports like wrestling, horse racing, and archery. The portability and ease of eating make Khuushuur a perfect festival food, enjoyed by competitors and spectators alike.

What is the Best Dish in Mongolia?

One of the best, yet perhaps underappreciated dishes in Mongolia, is Tsuivan. This dish showcases a different facet of Mongolian cuisine, focusing on noodles and vegetables, which provides a pleasant contrast to the meat-heavy dishes commonly associated with the country.

Tsuivan is a stir-fried noodle dish that includes a variety of meats (typically mutton, but sometimes beef or horse meat), along with vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, and onions. The ingredients are stir-fried together with hand-made noodles, which are thick and hearty. The dish is flavored simply with salt and animal fat, emphasizing the ingredients’ natural flavors without overpowering them with spices.

Tsuivan’s appeal lies in its simplicity and the comforting, filling nature of the dish, making it a popular choice in the cold Mongolian climate. It’s also a versatile dish, easily adapted to include whatever ingredients are on hand, which suits the nomadic lifestyle well.

What is the Most Unique Food in Mongolia?

Sour aaruul is made from dried curds

Mongolia offers some truly distinctive foods that reflect its nomadic traditions and resourceful culinary practices. Here are a few that stand out for their uniqueness:

  1. Boodog – This is a traditional Mongolian barbecue method where a goat or marmot is cooked with hot stones inside its skin, a technique showcasing the ingenuity of Mongolian cooking.
  2. Airag – This fermented mare’s milk is a traditional alcoholic beverage considered a national drink in Mongolia. It’s made by fermenting raw horse milk over several days, often in a leather pouch, and is a staple at social and ceremonial occasions.
  3. Aaruul – These dried curds are made from the leftover whey of cheese-making. They can be sweet or sour, hard, and chewy, serving as a durable, high-energy food source that can be stored for long periods.
  4. Stujin (Boiled Jellied Sheep’s Head) – Known locally as “head cheese,” this dish involves boiling the head of a sheep until the flesh is tender and serving it often chilled. The meat, including the cheeks and tongue, is prized for its texture and flavor.
  5. Beshbarmak (Five Fingers) – A dish where boiled meat from various parts of the animal, including horse or sheep, is served with its own broth over noodles or potatoes, and eaten traditionally with the hands, hence the name “five fingers.”
  6. Stomach Butter – Rendered fat from sheep’s stomach, this butter is used for cooking and adds a distinctive flavor to traditional dishes.
  7. Tomato Juice with Pickled Sheep’s Eyeball – A truly unique concoction, this drink involves a pickled sheep’s eyeball in tomato juice, reflecting the Mongolian ethos of using every part of the animal.

Each of these items not only serves a culinary purpose but also a cultural one, representing a facet of Mongolia’s heritage and the adaptability of its people to their environment.

Tradional Mongolian Breakfast Foods to Try

Mongolian breakfasts tend to be hearty and filling, designed to provide energy for the day ahead, especially in the cold climate. Here are some traditional breakfast foods that are popular in Mongolia:

  1. Boov – A type of fried or baked bread that is often served for breakfast. It’s typically dense and can be eaten plain or with various spreads like homemade jams or butter.
  2. Bantan – A comforting and simple dish made by dropping bits of dough into boiling mutton broth. It’s intended to be light on the stomach and is sometimes enjoyed with a sprinkle of salt or a dollop of stomach butter for extra flavor.
  3. Öröm – This dish is made from the cream collected from boiled milk, which is slightly thickened and sometimes spread over bread or boov.
  4. Airag – While also enjoyed throughout the day, fermented mare’s milk can be a revitalizing start to the morning, offering both nutrition and a slight alcoholic content.
  5. Rice Porridge – Often cooked with bits of meat and sometimes seasoned with salt or sugar, this dish provides a warm, comforting start to the day.
  6. Mongolian Tea (Süütei Tsai) – This salty milk tea is a staple at any Mongolian meal, including breakfast. It’s made by boiling water with tea leaves, milk, and a generous amount of salt. It’s not only hydrating but also filling, often consumed along with other dishes or used to soften dried biscuits or breads.

These breakfast items reflect the Mongolian way of life, offering sustenance that is both practical and nourishing, suited to the nomadic lifestyle.

Popular Mongolian Lunch Foods to Try

Lunch in Mongolia is typically hearty and filling, reflecting the energy requirements of the day’s activities, especially in rural or nomadic settings. Here are some traditional lunch dishes that are commonly enjoyed across Mongolia:

  1. Tsuivan – A staple at many Mongolian meals, this stir-fried noodle dish is loaded with meat (usually mutton) and various vegetables. It’s a filling and nutritious option that provides much-needed energy for the day.
  2. Guriltai Shul – A hearty noodle soup made with meat, which provides a warming and satisfying meal, especially during the cold months. It’s quick to prepare and very filling, perfect for a midday meal.
  3. Buuz – Although more popular during festivities, buuz (steamed dumplings filled with meat) are also a common lunch item because they are both nutritious and portable, making them ideal for a quick and substantial meal.
  4. Khuushuur – These fried dumplings are similar to buuz but are pan-fried, creating a crispy outer shell. They are easy to eat on the go and are often served at lunch, providing a tasty and satisfying option.
  5. Borts – Often used in soups and stews, this dried meat is rehydrated and cooked, making it a practical and protein-rich lunch choice for many, especially those living a nomadic lifestyle.
  6. Mongolian Barbecue – At times, lunch might consist of a simpler version of the more elaborate Khorkhog, using grilled meats and vegetables prepared over an open flame.

These lunch dishes showcase Mongolia’s culinary diversity and its adaptation to the nomadic lifestyle, focusing on high-energy foods that are both practical and nourishing.

Popular Mongolian Dinner Foods to Try

Dinner in Mongolia, like other meals, centers around hearty and warming dishes that reflect the country’s nomadic heritage and the need to stay nourished in a harsh climate. Here are some traditional dinner foods that are commonly enjoyed:

  1. Khorkhog – A very special dinner dish, this is Mongolian barbecue at its finest, involving meat (usually mutton) cooked with hot stones inside a sealed container. The cooking method imparts a unique flavor and tenderness to the meat, making it a favorite for communal meals and celebrations.
  2. Bantan – Although it can also serve as a breakfast dish, Bantan is often eaten at dinner to soothe the stomach after a day of heavier eating. It’s a simple mutton broth with dough crumbs, which absorbs the flavors of the broth beautifully.
  3. Buuz – Eaten year-round but particularly during celebrations, these steamed dumplings are filled with seasoned meat and are a staple at dinner tables, offering a satisfying end to the day.
  4. Tsuivan – This versatile noodle dish makes another appearance at dinner, appreciated for its hearty and comforting nature. It’s a complete meal in itself, with vegetables and meat mixed with thick, hand-made noodles.
  5. Mongolian Hot Pot – Known as shabu shabu, this dish involves cooking thin slices of meat and vegetables in a pot of boiling broth. It’s a communal meal, perfect for sharing among family and friends during the cold months.
  6. Stewed Camel – In certain regions of Mongolia, camel meat is used for stews that are slowly cooked to develop deep, rich flavors, making for a warming and hearty dinner option.

These dinner options are deeply rooted in the traditional Mongolian lifestyle, focusing on community, warmth, and sustenance. They are not only nourishing but also serve as an important part of family and social gatherings.

Best Street Food to Try in Mongolia

Mongolia’s street food scene, while not as varied as those in more urbanized Asian countries, offers some unique and hearty options that reflect the local cuisine and lifestyle. Here are some of the best street foods to try in Mongolia:

  1. Khuushuur – These fried meat dumplings are a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Easily portable and very filling, they are perfect for a quick meal on the go.
  2. Buuz – Though commonly made at home during celebrations, buuz are also widely available from street vendors, especially during public holidays and festivals. Steamed and served hot, they’re a delicious treat to enjoy while exploring.
  3. Tsagaan Sar Cookies (Ul Boov) – Around the Lunar New Year, these cookies are piled in ornate, towering arrangements and sold. They’re not only a treat but also a part of the celebration.
  4. Boortsog – A simple, fried bread, often enjoyed with tea or as a snack throughout the day. It’s a staple that you’ll find at many street food stalls.
  5. Airag – Available particularly during festivals, this fermented mare’s milk is a unique beverage to try from street vendors, offering a taste of traditional Mongolian culture.
  6. Grilled Meat Skewers – Reflecting the Mongolian love of meat, these skewers are a common sight, with various meats seasoned and grilled, ready to eat on the spot.

Each of these street food items offers a window into the daily life and culinary traditions of Mongolia, providing tasty and affordable options for everyone.

Best Desserts and Sweets to Try in Mongolia

Mongolian desserts and sweets may not be as prominent as in other cuisines, given the focus on meat and dairy, but there are still some delightful treats to enjoy. Here are some of the best desserts and sweets you should try in Mongolia:

  1. Boortsog – These are sweet, deep-fried dough biscuits, often enjoyed with tea. They can be dipped in honey or sprinkled with sugar to enhance their flavor.
  2. Aaruul – While primarily a dried dairy product, aaruul can also be considered a sweet treat, especially varieties made with fruits or sugar. It’s chewy and can come in different flavors, offering a taste that is both unique and satisfying.
  3. Ul Boov – These are traditional cookies shaped like sole fish, stacked in layers during festivities. They are not overly sweet but have a mild, pleasing taste and a hard, crunchy texture.
  4. Mongolian Milk Tea with Rice and Sugar – This dessert-like beverage is a sweeter version of the traditional Mongolian tea. It’s often served with rice or dumplings cooked directly in the tea, adding a unique texture and flavor.
  5. Yogurt – Known locally as tarag, Mongolian yogurt is thicker and tangier than what you might be used to. It’s sometimes sweetened with sugar or honey and served as a refreshing dessert.

These desserts and sweets provide a delightful end to any meal, offering a glimpse into the simpler, yet rich culinary traditions of Mongolia.


Exploring Mongolian cuisine offers a fascinating glimpse into a food culture that is deeply intertwined with the country’s nomadic traditions and harsh climatic conditions. From hearty meat dishes like Buuz and Khorkhog to unique beverages such as Airag, and even the simple yet satisfying desserts like Boortsog, each element of Mongolian food reflects a lifestyle adapted to mobility and survival in extreme environments.

For travelers and culinary adventurers, Mongolia presents an opportunity to experience a way of eating that prioritizes sustenance, communal preparation, and the ingenious use of local ingredients. It’s a cuisine that may challenge the palate but also enriches the understanding of how a culture can thrive under challenging conditions.

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