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An old Mongolian saying goes something like: 'Breakfast, keep for yourself; lunch, share with your friends; dinner, give to your enemies'. The biggest and most important meals for Mongolians are breakfast and lunch, which will usually consist of boiled mutton with lots of fat and flour and maybe some dairy products or rice. The Kazaks in western Mongolia add variety to their diet with horse meat. The Mongolians are big tea drinkers and the classic drink is salty milk tea. Men who refuse to drink vodka are considered wimps, while herders make their own unique home brew airag, which is fermented horse's milk with an alcoholic content of about 3%. Many Mongolians distill it further to produce shimiin arkhi, which boosts the alcohol content to around 12%.

The main substance of the Mongolian diet is meat and milk products. Anything green or leafy is considered goat's food. Although a diet with lots of mutton fat, fermented milk and salty milk tea is not a popular dieters choice it has provided much sustenance, energy and nutrition for the nomad for centuries. There is not a lot of variation in the diet of the Mongolians but it is amazing the number and variety of meals that they can produce with such limited ingredients.

Milk is taken from yaks, cows, sheep, goat and camels. Try to the yak's cream - it is really to die for. The woman's work is the milking. Sheep and goats are harnessed together, shoulder to shoulder, and milked early morning and at dusk. Throughout the summer mare's are milked every two hours to make the mare's milk, `airag'. Milk not fermented is used to make the salty tea. In addition to cream, milk and yoghurt, a variety of cheeses and curds make up what is known as the `white foods'. Appropriately, white is considered to be the color of luck by the nomadic peoples.

Meat is eaten from sheep, cow, goat, camel, yak and sometimes horse. Although Buddhists, Mongolians would not survive without being meat eaters. Every part of the animal is used - either eaten or used for clothes or coverings. Meat is usually cured and dried to last throughout the winter and spring. Herdsmen don't like slaughtering animals during these seasons when they are lean. `Horhog' or `boodog' are favorites for celebrations. This is when hot rocks are placed into the skin of the animal, or an urn, followed by chunks of meat and water. The neck of the animal is then sewn up and the meat allowed to roast. Marmots are also hunted in the summer months and their meat is considered a delicacy.

The rift between countryside and city is so big that food stores in Ulaanbaatar offer German jam, butter from New Zealand, cheese from Russia, mustard from Czech Republic, and juice from Poland (these are just examples), but virtually no products of Mongolian origin besides yogurt, bread and sausage. Mongolia lacks the technical means to produce and transport dairy products in winter; with temperatures below -30 C (-22 F) milk and cheese have to be heated rather than to be cooled! As a consequence, relying on imported foodstuff without access to local resources is an expensive endeavor for the average city dweller stretching the family budget to its limits.


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