“What is real Mongolian food like?” we sheepishly wondered as we sat down to dinner on day one. We had previously been warned that Mongolia isn’t a food destination (see my previous post here). The breakfast at the Best Western Tuushin hotel had been an odd mixture of global continental and Chinese takeout, and now, it was finally time to experience traditional Mongolian cuisine.
Turns out, it was sheep’s head. And it was delicious. We wolfed down the tenderly braised meat and vegetables along with Buuz, a Mongolian version of xiao long bao, Boortsog, a lightly-sweetened fried dough, and a cumin-laced plate of sizzling beef stir-fry. All washed down with local Mongolian beer. Ahh.
Our appetite had built up through a jam-packed day of company visits. Starting from morning meetings with SGI Frontier Capital, a private equity fund, to the Central Bank of Mongolia (we got to see the bank’s vault!). We quickly paused for lunch at Khuree, where most of us had our first experience with Aarts, a traditional Mongolian drink made of sour milk curds, served hot. For the uninitiated, Aarts is an acquired taste. I would best describe it as a mixture of hot plain yogurt with a cup of grated parmesan cheese. But you should at least try it once.
In the afternoon, we moved on to Newcom Group, a leading provider of renewable energy, and finally wrapped up with a visit to APU Group, the largest brewer and beverage producer in Mongolia. It’s hard to have a beverage in Mongolia without running across APU – the company encompasses a brewery, a spirits distiller, a vodka plant, a water and soft drinks plant, as well as a dairy processor. You might have noticed that there is no wine. Indeed, the harsh weather system in Mongolia is not very suitable for viticulture. Most of the wine here is imported from Australia, South America, the US, and France.
We walked into APU’s Ulaanbaatar brewery and were promptly issued white lab coats (they were really capes) and blue hairnets. Our guide took us through the brewing process, where a combination of malt, hops, yeast, and water work together to transform simple grains into fizzy beer. Then, it was time for a tasting! We tried the brewer’s signature lager, Нийслэл™. The beer was mild, refreshing, slightly sweet with a hint of citrus.
Just when we thought the tasting was over, our guide brought us over to a different area of the building where she broke out two bottles of vodka and a tray of water glasses. Oh boy, we were in for a ride.
Chinggis Khan is APU’s premium vodka, and Eden is a more affordable brand that’s about a quarter the price of the Chinggis Khan. We tasted both and did a side-by-side comparison (does this count as a DiD analysis? Where are my notes from Business Analytics?) Maybe it was psychological, but most of us preferred the Chinggis.
So that brings us to an end of our first beverage-filled day in Mongolia. One last note about a semi-related beverage – coffee. Mongolians still have a fairly strong tea culture, and coffee is a relatively new trend. What this means is that the coffee here is pretty…watery by New York standards (think Blue Java half diluted with water). I hear that you can ask for your coffee to be made stronger, and will be testing out this #protip as we race through another busy day in Ulaanbaatar tomorrow. Stay tuned!