Mongolian Dairy

Mongolia has two main food groups: Meat and Dairy. I’m generally big fan of all foods milk related and have been trying all kinds of new foods here. Some good, some not my favorite.

From left to right: A milk curd drink, milk, yogurt in a bag, more milk (in back), aarul (in front), fresh milk in a bag, and sour cream (with a picture of a lady and a cat)
Some Mongolian milk products from our fridge [left to right]: A milk curd drink, milk, yogurt in a bag, more milk (in back), aarul (in front), fresh milk in a bag, and sour cream (with a picture of a lady and a cat)

Some dairy products of note and my observations:

  • Airag: fermented mare’s milk, pretty sour, a little carbonated, available at stands on the side of the road outside of the city and at Naadam
  • Aarul: hardened cheeseish (I think technically hardened milk curds?), a popular snack, kind of sour I prefer them when they are sweetened a bit with sugar
  • Goat cheese: sadly Mongolians don’t like goat milk, so no Mongolian goat cheese even though there are goats everywhere
  • Yogurt: Mongolian yogurt is very popular, and pretty liquid, kind of like a thick potato soup
  • Milk tea: sort of more like a savory soup, it’s milk cooked with a tinnie amount of black tea and then salted generously (which is weird to me, because all of the actual food is not seasoned well at all). Once you think of it as a soup broth, it’s kind of good.
  • Cheese: there’s not much western style cheese, but I recently found a company that specializes in “French-style” cheese (but also makes ricotta and mozzarella) that are all delicious. And we’ve founds some pretty good Gouda in Mongolian groceries.
  • Cream: no cream anywhere! No one makes it. But, there’s a German woman who makes baked goods (mostly for expats) and sells this super concentrated shelf-stable cream that supposedly you can dilute with milk to get cream. Now we’ve also found small containers of this concentrated cream imported from Europe in a big Mongolian grocery. Haven’t tried this for cooking yet though.
  • Packaging: sometimes fresh milk and yogurt comes in plastic bags (like the yogurt bag above, not the clear produce bag with milk)
  • Milk curd drink: I tried this one, it was pretty sour and I don’t really need to have it again. But, supposedly heated with sugar in the winter, it is good for a cold.

As for milk, there is plenty of milk in the stores, although much of it is powdered. When I got here every single expat I talked to lamented the fact that you couldn’t find fresh milk in the city. But, the first Mongolian I asked told me yes, people bring it into the city, just not in the areas where most foreigners live. The milk man (or woman) brings a truck in the mornings, yells “milk for sale,” and fills the containers you bring. I don’t understand why everyone kept repeating that you can’t find fresh milk. And then, after hearing about real fresh milk in the city, I found clear bags of milk that I’m pretty sure were fresh milk in a grocery store in a neighborhood without many foreigners.

An airag stand on the countryside
An airag stand on the countryside

When we went to the countryside at a ger camp with good food, I got to try all sorts of new Mongolian dairy products that I haven’t seen in the grocery stores in the city. Alongside the pitchers of juice and milk, there was a pitcher labeled “yogurt,” but this “yogurt” was straight up liquid. It may have been real buttermilk — the liquid that is left when you make butter from cream. I liked it, Tom and a friend we were with thought it was too sour and not good. Which is saying something since they seemed to like the airag we had on the way to camp much more than me. That was way more off tasting and sour if you ask me. Their response — the airag is a little carbonated so it goes down easier. We’ll have to agree to disagree.

For breakfast at the camp we also had toast with a variety of spreads to choose from: jam, nutella, and three different plates of spreads that had come from milk. I think there was regular butter, then there was one that was kind of a sour butter, and then there was one that I think they describe as clotted cream but had a little too much barnyard flavor for my liking. But as I said, I liked the liquid “yogurt,” so I feel like I’m adapting to the dairy culture here.

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