Throw your favorite meat on the ground, light up, take aim, and let the flames fly. Mongolians love a good outdoor barbecue. Boodog, a Mongolian favorite, involves stuffing a goat full of potatoes, carrots, and hot stones, sewing it back up, throwing it on an open fire, and slowly roasting it with your handheld flame thrower. The result is a tender, slow-cooked, roasted delicacy.
Mongolia is one of the last places on the planet that still has a society made up of nomads. The ger, which translates simply to “home” in Mongolian, is the same yurt dwelling that Mongolians have used for centuries. Even Genghis Khan lived in one. The circular structure, made of wooden lattice and sheep felt, can typically be taken down or put up within an hour.
Strap it to your trusty horse or camel and ride off to follow your grazing livestock to the next hidden valley of wild grasses.
There aren’t many places left in the world where, when someone needs to pick up some groceries, their preferred mode of transport is a horse. Children learn to ride almost as soon as they learn to walk. The herding nomadic lifestyle that comprises the majority of the country’s livelihood means that many Mongolians spend countless hours on horseback.
Only when you can gallop up to your local bank, tether your steed outside, and step in to make a deposit will you truly be counted as one of the people of the Great Khan.
City streets, tall skyscrapers, and bustling sidewalks aren’t the norm in Mongolia. You need space for your horses to run, your livestock to graze, and your children to play. Mongolia is the largest country with the least number of people (ranked 135th in world). The landscape is wide rolling steppes, expansive grasslands, vast desert, and rocky mountains. Lots of space and not a lot of people means plenty of room to run around and stretch those booted feet.
If you’re a true-blue Mongolian, your diet consists of two staples: meat and dairy. Milk is not only sustenance, but a revered spiritual liquid symbolizing purity, renewal, and birth. And it doesn’t just come from cows, but also goats, horses, and camels. If you’re up to the Mongol challenge, you can turn that milk into anything. From curds to yogurts, cheeses to sweets, Mongolians cultivate the milk they get from their livestock to produce an array of products that would make the lactose intolerant clench their stomach.
For the bold, try a big bowl of airag, the Mongolian national drink of fermented mares’ milk. After several sour, nose-crinkling swigs, you’ll be tipsy and heading for the outhouse.
For clarification, your pet is an eagle. It is trained to hunt other people’s pets. If that isn’t badass, I don’t know what is. For centuries, Mongolians have tamed and used these birds of prey to hunt small game. In the far western province of Bayan Ulgii, Mongolian and ethnic Kazakhs still practice the art of sending their trained golden eagles out over the mountains and steppes, catching and retrieving rabbits, marmots, and foxes. The warm pelts from the animals are used to craft hats, gloves, and boots that help combat the brutal Mongolian winters.
It can get pretty cramped in all those gers. Communal eating outdoors is one of the best ways to get together with large groups of people. Family and friends gather around a rug placed on the wide open steppe. Candy, veggies, vats of roast meat, and plates of bread and cheese are all spread out for everyone to enjoy. Older folks play games like dominoes and cards while the younger, strapping lads brush up on their wrestling techniques. Don’t forget to do your celebratory vodka shots. Lots and lots of vodka shots…
Mongolia is known for its long, grueling winters, with temperatures plummeting well below -45°C. Mongolians must keep a constant fire going in their ger stoves to survive the winter. It can snow as early as August and the thaw may not hit until around May.
With all that open grassland, slow-burning fuel can be hard to come by. When wood and coal aren’t readily available, Mongols keep their ger toasty warm by collecting the dry dung from their livestock. When you can start your first bonafide poop fire, you’ve reached a level of fire-making prowess that would make Bear Grylls tip his hat.
Naadam is the multi-day summer celebration commonly known as the Festival of the Three Manly Sports. Know them and embrace them. The sports — wrestling, horseback riding, and archery — are usually held over a three-day period in July in a series of nonstop competitions. The festival harks back to the time of Genghis Khan, when Mongol warriors would compete against each other while laying siege to the cities of their enemies.
Wrestling is done in a small ring where the winner is the first man to throw his opponent to the ground. Families spend years breeding the fastest horse for the horse race portion, and children are usually chosen as riders for their light weight. The most accurate and strong-armed archers are chosen to compete, and usually spend the last day of the festival firing volleys into far-flung targets. Practice up!