Cooking Techniques

Yak milk is in abundant supply for the herding communities of Central and Western Mongolia. While there is limited caloric diversity in many communities, multiple products are derived from milk for their flavor, texture and digestive properties. One of the most prevalent foods is yogurt. Yogurt production in Mongolia does not involve the industrial denaturing of bacteria common in industrial cow milk yogurt production. Why this step is avoided was not discussed, but could be an area for future inquiry.

As is the case with everything in nomadic society, animals which are slaughtered for protein must be cleaned in a way that preserves the entirety of the animal for consumption. The people in the Northern Province of Mongolia have developed a method of slaughtering animals that lets nothing go to waste.

Nermel Arhi is a traditional vodka made from fermented yak milk from the Arkhangai aimag. Nermel Arhi is a favorite drink of the people in the city and is an expected gift from anyone who travels to the countryside. It has a taste that can be compared to Saki. Nermel Arhi (also called "airag") is one of the premium dairy products of the yak herders. The heated leather strap at the top of the still is used for the treatment of back and kidney pain. Immediately after removal from the still, the strap is wrapped around the waist to provide heat treatments to the lower back region.

Where broths, water, or other cooking liquids are used in other cultures for cooking food, coconut cream or milk is often used in the Qaqet culture. This is largely due to the availability of the coconut and its nutritional value and flavor. Coconut cream is often used as the base ingredient for soups and as a cooking liquid for rice, greens, taro, and other vegetables.

Khorkhog is a Mongolian dish made by utilizing heated stones to sear meat and various vegetables in a metal container. The exact process by which Khorkhog is made begins by gathering smooth, rounded stones and a fuel for burning (wood, cow dung, etc.), as well as a metal bowl or pot with a lid.

Hot cooking stones are often used in order to heat and cook food without directly exposing it to the heat of the flames, embers, or ashes of a fire. The stones selected for cooking have very specific thermal and density characteristics. The average cooking stone is about the size of a grapefruit or a large orange. It is typically smooth like a river stone and is generally brown or gray in color. This allows for a low-maintenance cooking process that can occur without constant supervision.

River stone cooking is used to distribute heat evenly through the cooking process. In many areas of Mongolia, there is limited access to clean water so once the cooking is complete; the extracted stones are passed around to everyone at the meal. The stone is passed between their hands for 30 seconds purifying and disinfecting their hands.

A lot of cooking, particularly cooking of foods such as meats and root vegetables that are able to withstand high heat, is done directly on prepared fires, embers, or ashes. Often times tough roots or vegetables will be buried in the hot ashes of a pre-existing fire before leaving the house for a few hours so that the food is ready to be eaten upon return. Vegetables and roots such as spring onions and taro, a staple food of Papua New Guinea, are placed directly onto flames or embers.

Bamboo is a readily available resource that serves many functions in Qaqet society, including use as a cooking container. The bamboo provides moisture for steaming and adds a sweet flavor to the dish. Cooking in bamboo shoots reduces the need for villagers to use synthetic cooking containers to cook their food. This resource provides them with a free and highly available alternative to metal pots and pans. It is common to see children or men who are away from home for the day carrying a shoot of bamboo that holds either prepared or unprepared food.