Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What's the food like in Mongolia? (How do Mongolians avoid scurvy?)

The Lonely Planet guidebook tries to pretend that UB has a wide food selection -- I believe it suggests that Ulaanbaatur is in the "upper echelons" as far as variety of cuisine goes in Asia. I beg to differ. Mongolia is a land-locked country that, for much of the year, is covered in permafrost. Nothing's growing. The fruits and vegetables that you can buy are limited in variety, and, because they are almost all imported, they're expensive.

The nomadic diet consists almost entirely of what they have on hand: a lot of milk products, from goats and yaks, many of which are fermented, so they can last through the winter, yak meat, and mutton. The other big ingredient is wheat. I was legitimately amazed they all didn't have scurvy until I learned that unpasteurized milk has some vitamin C in it, and, apparently, lamb liver contains quite a lot of vitamin C.

A friend of mine here who works for CHF International, (which, like Mercy Corps, is an organization that works on poverty reduction and sustainable change across the world) was telling me that two of the big funders of CHF's Mongolian operations are United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Apparently, the USAID tends to give money, and USDA works with CHF to help "monetize" American wheat. The USDA currently subsidizes wheat production in America. Then, because there is a surplus of wheat in America, the extra wheat gets shipped off to countries like Mongolia. CHF sells the wheat to Mongolians and uses that income to subsidize their programs.

In countries like Mongolia where it's difficult to grow wheat, this is a really effective way of giving people access to wheat. In countries in Africa, however, where this apparently also occurs, and where there is already wheat production, it can be devastating to the market as the surplus lowers the overall price of wheat.


At 5:39 PM, Blogger Z. said...

Airag, the fermented mare's milk was an essential source of vitamin C. The dairy products which Mongolians consume during the summer seasons also contain vitamin C. I think that overall, Mongolian diet is similar to the Eskimo and Inuit diets, i.e, very rich in protein and calcium.

At 2:04 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Hi, I will be posted to UB for work and coming from an urbanised country, my worries were what kind of food is available in restaurants, supermarkets, etc? Most people did not highlight the common brands we know, are they available there. Also what kind of fashion shops there? Are iPhone useable and does it come with a data plan to surf internet on the phone? It will be great hearing from the locals like u! Thanks!


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