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The Truth About Mongolian Food Culture (What to Eat – 14 Dishes)

It’s quite common knowledge that Mongolian food culture is not winning any culinary awards on the world stage, in fact we personally like to refer to it as the cafeteria cuisine of the world! Heading into Mongolia we had no idea what food to expect, in fact a Mongolian friend of ours simply stated “have low expectations then you won’t be disappointed”!

This article is aimed at giving those planning on visiting Mongolia a bit of an insight on what food is really available. P.S. it’s a lot of mutton or mystery meat (camel / yak etc.).

Conditions on the vast, cold Mongolian steppe has always made food a necessity, rather than an art. Nomads make do with what they can and this means a lot of meat and dairy, supplemented with flour based doughs and occasionally rice.

In the major settlements, like Ulaanbaatar, you can find a big selection of international food (we, even had pizza!). But, on the steppe, expect only the most basic food. In our 30 day trip, pretty much the only vegetables we had were gherkins (pickles), and one stop at a Turkish restaurant in Olgi – where we got potatoes and carrots.

So, this guide reflects the real Mongolian food – what nomads on the steppe eat on a regular basis.

In case you were opening this article expecting to hear about Mongolian Beef – think again! Aside from the fact that Mongolian food rarely includes beef (regular cattle wouldn’t survive the Mongolian winter), Mongolian beef as a dish was invented in China or Taiwan and became an international restaurant standard even though it has no connection to the country of Mongolia at all.


Mongolian Food: Table Of Contents

Typical Roadhouse Food On The Steppe

Mongolian Food often served inside private Gers (Mongolian yurts/nomadic homes)

Mongolian Food Podcast (Coming Soon)

Mongolian Food Menu – Some menu photos you can use to help you in remote Mongolia

Mongolia Guided Tours – Visit Outer Mongolia (Opens In New Tab)

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Restaurant / Roadhouse Mongolian Food On The Steppe

Buuz – Mongolian Dumplings

mongolian food: Buuz - Mongolian Dumplings

Buuz – Mongolian Dumplings

Probably our favourite Mongolian food. Buuz is the traditional Mongolian dumpling. Expect them to be filled with ground meat, just meat. They are dense, larger than the dumplings you might expect to see on a dim sum menu, and the meat inside could be pretty much anything depending on what the roadhouse has at the time. Mutton is typical but also expect goat, yak or even camel meat. Quite often they are made to order, by hand, so you may wait 30 minutes or more after ordering to get your steaming hot buuz.

This dish is found throughout Mongolia often in Roadhouses. We found many regular restaurants don’t even offer this dish though. It is normally considered the national dish of Mongolia.

Khuushuur (Pronounced Horeshure) – Deep fried mutton parcels

mongolian food - Khuushuur (Pronounced Horeshure)

Khuushuur (Pronounced Horeshure) – Deep fried mutton parcels 

Probably the most popular staple in roadstops for quick food, meat (normally mutton, of course) is ground and fried inside a dough shell. Oily and filling, perfect to abolish hunger on a long trip across the steppe. It’s also the main food available at Naadam festivals. You will see people devour these by the bag load!

Tsuivan – Fried noodle with mutton

Mongolian Food: Tsuivan - Fried noodle with mutton

Mongolian Food: Tsuivan – Fried noodle with mutton

Essentially it’s a home made noodle pan fried with meat and a tiny amount of vegetables. Found all over especially in rest stops this dish can vary in taste wildly depending on who made it. Some is good and some is very, very bad!

Many locals smother it in ketchup to add “flavour”.

Mutton Soup

mongolian food: Mutton Soup

Mutton Soup

Nothing but mutton, fat and broth, sometimes (if you are lucky!) served with a steamed bun.

Mutton Kebabs (Mongolian BBQ)

mongolian food: Mutton Kebabs 

Mutton Kebabs: Mongolian Fast Food

Specially served up during the Naadam festival as fast food. Harder to find in restaurants. Yes, the white pieces are not mushrooms, they are pure fat! This is the closest thing we found to “Mongolian BBQ” in Mongolia – if you are having mongolian bbq in your home country, it hasn’t got much to do with real Mongolian Food Culture, other than yes, they do BBQ meat some of the time.

Don’t Rough It… Take A Fully Guided Tour Across Mongolia

Check Out The Best Tours From Our Favourite Small Group, Adventure Tour Company, Intrepid.

Home Treats: Food often served inside Gers

The Ger is the traditional Mongolian dwelling (similar to a yurt). As soon as you leave Ulaanbaatar or any other major town, you’ll see them dotted around the countryside. For most tourists, visiting or staying in a Ger is an essential part of any trip.

Dried Cheese Biscuit (“Qurut” or “Aaruul”)

Dried Cheese Buscuit

This is a favourite of all Mongolians! Made of drained, sour milk that has been left outside to dry and then served as a kind of dessert or snack.

It’s sour and salty and it’s one of those foods you have to have grown up eating to truly enjoy. But it keeps really well, and in the harsh reality of living on the Mongolian steppe, this Mongolian food is essential to survival. Try it for yourself but its probably going on our list of ‘Foods to Never Eat Again’

Mongolian Cream – öröm

mongolia food16

For those of you that have tried clotted cream (A famous product from south-west England) you will find the flavour very similar, for those of you that haven’t its naughty, fatty, awesome cream! Unlike England where it’s eaten on scones, here you’ll likely have it with homemade bread.

This was one of Tommo’s favourites in Mongolia.

Yaks Butter

Mongolian Food Yaks butter

This is a very salty, strong flavoured butter made from yaks milk. Just as a heads up the families do tend to make this in large batches in order to save for the winter months, however due to the lack of refrigeration in gers the butter is kept inside sheep stomach to preserve it. That’s right! They pack it into a sheep stomach, sew it up and leave it in a cool place! You can almost taste the stomach acid! If this makes you squeamish it may be best to avoid.


Boortsog – Mongolian Cookies (Image By Vidor)

Considered a Mongolian dessert, Boortsog is deep fried dough. That’s it. When fresh it’s semi hard, but by the time it’s fully cold and served up a day or two old, which is what we commonly got, it goes a little tough, which is why they also seem to be known as Mongolian Cookies. Good for dunking in milk tea to soften it up, or with some of that Mongolian cream.

Typical Mongolian Breakfast

Typical Mongolian Breakfast Spread

Typical Mongolian Breakfast Spread

We were surprised with staying in / visiting many gers (traditional tent homes) that the main imported products they seem to have were sweets from China and that they were a breakfast food. Other than that, the typical Mongolian food served for breakfast would include homemade bread, Yaks butter and thick cream (mentioned above) and some biscuits and tea.

Mares Milk – “Airag”

Mares Milk - "Airag"

Mares Milk – “Airag”

Another national favourite. Mares Milk is fermented (so yes, its alcoholic, but only about 2% ABV). It’s salty and sour and tastes like a pungent, slightly gone off milk – because that’s pretty much what it is. It should be noted that it is seen to be very rude to not try mares milk if offered to you, you have three options at this point:

  1. Drink Up
  2. Place the bowl to your lips and pretend to drink
  3. Place your middle finger lightly in the milk and then flick three times once to you left, once to your right and then upwards as an offering to the spirits.

Mutton and Noodle Soup – Guriltai Shol


Mutton and Noodle Soup – Guriltai Shol

The name speaks for itself, this dish is usually quite tasty as the noodles are normally fresh and handmade.

Traditional Mongolian Food: The Five Fingers Feast

Mongolian Food: The Five Fingers Feast

Mongolian Food: The Five Fingers Feast

A family meal like no other. All the parts of a sheep or goat are boiled together in a large pot: this includes meat, stomach, fat and of course the head, which is expertly carved up by the oldest male of the Ger. If you’re lucky you might get offered an eyeball!

Traditionally, different organs are supposed to be eaten by different members of the family. If that tradition is being observed you may end up with no choice about eating some very strange offal! Either way, once the meat is on the plate, in a dark ger, every mouthful is a gamble!

Strange as this very traditional Mongolian Food may seem to tourists, it is actually one of the more special meals. We only got to experience it once when we stayed overnight in a Ger in the far north west of Mongolia near the Altay mountains.

And now for something a even More Daring……



Marmot – A Mongolian Game Food

Often found on the Western side of Mongolia, this furry creature is still known to carry the bubonic plague!

We didn’t eat Marmot while in Mongolia but one driver did offer to catch and kill one for us to have for dinner…..we politely declined!

Don’t Rough It… Take A Fully Guided Tour Across Mongolia

Check Out The Best Tours From Our Favourite Small Group, Adventure Tour Company, Intrepid.

Mongolian Food Podcast

In our Mongolian Food Podcast Episode:

  • After a month spent in Mongolia, we discuss their most important cultural dishes
  • Mongolian food is based on “white food” and “red food” we explain what that is and why they have those classifications
  • Plus, Is Mongolia’s most famous dish around the world really a Mongolian dish at all?

Listen to other episodes of our Food-Travel podcast now:

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Mongolian Food Menu (Russian To English)

Don’t expect every restaurant to have an English menu – some may have no menu at all! As dishes in Mongolia do not vary greatly from town to town, we found the below English / Mongolian (Russian) menu really helpful. Often we would show it to a waitress and she would point to what dishes they had available at that restaurant.

mongolia food10 mongolia food09 mongolia food08 mongolia food07

While in Mongolia there is no escaping the food… you have to eat sometime right? We found that while not bursting with flavour, much of it was quite edible and even sometimes tasty! You never know, if you don’t try new things how will you ever discover new foodie favourites…

You just really need to like Goat & Mutton!