Traditionally Pressed Mongol Curd

Traditionally Pressed Mongol Curd

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Airag is Mongolian traditional drink. Rural people making summer time in it. 1000-3000 times bit it in cow's skin bag. (leader bag) Mongolian people used to airag in Naadam festival, wedding, New year and others. Some people can drink 2-3 letre one sit. Airag has included 7-8% of alcohol. So you will drink a lot of airag maybe you hang over. Airag is Mongolian respect and safely drink so you never to spit and drop it outside. During the Naadam and New year festival who win the wrestling competition, people present him with one big bowl airag. Also, horse racing competition whose horse wins people drop the airag horse's croup.

Mongolian famous and tasty airags originated from Bulgan, Arkhangai, Ovorkhangai provinces. Airag gives strength and cheerfulness and it destroys pathogenic microbes in the intestines and helps improve the living body metabolisms. If you visit the Mongolian family or wedding people give you one big bowl airag. Maybe you can't drink it just try to sip it. ( airag is soft lime).

History of Tofu - Page 1

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Tofu , also called "bean curd," is a fresh, cheese-like product made by curding soymilk it is sold in ready-to-eat cakes. Yet in a broader sense, tofu refers to an entire family of foods including silken tofu, deep-fried tofu burgers, cutlets and pouches, firm and pressed tofu, grilled and smoked tofu, and frozen and dried-frozen tofu. Each of these types has its own unique history, as will be discussed at the end of this chapter.

Tofu has long been the most widely used soyfood in the world. In East Asia it has much the same importance that meat, milk, and cheese have for people in Western countries. Worldwide the tofu industry is very large. In 1982 it consisted of an estimated 245,000 manufacturers, including 30,000 in Japan, 200,000 in the People's Republic of China, 11,000 in Indonesia, 2,500 in Korea, 1,500 in Taiwan, and 225 in the Western world. The world's largest factories, located in Japan, make over 50 tonnes (metric tons) of tofu a day (15,000 tonnes a year).

Etymology . In China, the standard Mandarin term for tofu in the pinyin writing system is doufu (formerly written as tou-fu in the Wade-Giles system, but pronounced DOE-fu in both). In Cantonese it is tau-fu or dau-fu (both pronounced DAU-fu) and in Hokkien it is tau-hu (pronounced dau-hu). The earliest known mention of this word was in about AD 950, just before the Sung dynasty. Before that time, the food may have been referred to by poetical or other names such as li ch'i ("morning prayer") as will be discussed later.

Tofu is a Japanese word the earliest known appearance was in 1182. During the 1400s, tofu developed a number of nicknames in Japan, such as shiro kabe or shira kabe , and later okabe .

Among the early English-language articles on this food, those which originated in Japan usually called it tofu (Kellner 1889 Inouye 1895 Trimble 1896 Langworthy 1897 Piper and Morse 1916 etc.), whereas those that originated in China generally called it "bean curd" (Bretschneider 1893 Rein 1899 Stuart 1911 etc.). However, the first (though only parenthetic) use of the term "bean curd" was by Kellner (1889) in Japan. The term "bean cheese" was also widely used in the early days (Langworthy 1897 Blasdale 1899 Ruhrah 1909 Makino 1918), as was "soy bean cheese" (Linder 1912 Morse 1918a). From 1910 to 1920 all these terms were used, with "tofu" and "bean curd" being the most popular. Gibbs and Agcaoili (1912) referred to it as "soja-bean curd," noting that it was also called "bean cake or bean cheese." Murakami (1916) called it "bean curd or bean jelly." Piper and Morse (1923), in their highly influential The Soybean , reflected the terminology confusion of the times nicely: they entitled their section "Tofu or Soybean Curd," referred to the food mostly as "bean curd" in this section, then switched and called it "soy cake" throughout their recipe section. Starting in the 1930s, "soy (or soybean) cheese" came back into popularity, especially among Seventh-day Adventist writers (Dittes 1929, 1935 Van Gundy 1936). By 1974 the four most widely used names, in descending order of popularity were "bean curd," "tofu," "soybean curd," and "soy cheese."

With publication of The Book of Tofu (Shurtleff and Aoyagi 1975), the name quickly came to be standardized as the Japanese term "tofu" by manufacturers (on their labels), cookbook and food column writers, food scientists, and the soyfoods industry. There were various reasons that the Japanese term was chosen: (1) the authors had done most of their research and written their book in Japan. In their subsequent writings, including various tofu standards, they actively urged American tofu makers to adopt the Japanese term as their standard (2) the majority of tofu shops in America in 1975 were Japanese-run and the Japanese-made tofu was the most widely available and most professionally marketed (3) the terms "bean curd" and "soybean curd," were both unappealing and inaccurate, since tofu was made from soymilk curds just as cheese was made from dairy milk curds (4) the term "soy cheese" was misleading since tofu is not ripened or fermented like most cheeses, but more important the term would eventually be contested and opposed by the dairy industry and (5) "tofu" was a short, easy-to-spell, easy-to-remember "new" term which could be given a new image. By 1980 even Chinese manufacturers in America sold their product as "tofu" only a few old-fashioned Chinese cookbook or food article writers held on to the awkward term "bean curd," which was rapidly approaching extinction. In the original (1975) edition of The Book of Tofu many of the special varieties of tofu ( kinugoshi , age , ganmo , etc.) had been given Japanese names. With the publication of the extensively revised Ballantine edition of The Book of Tofu , these were all Americanized (silken tofu, tofu pouches, tofu burgers, etc.). The standardization of the term "tofu" in America led some other Western countries to follow suit.

In French, tofu was first called fromage de pois (Champion 1866 Rein 1899 Bloch 1907). In his influential article on soyfoods in 1880, Paillieux referred to it in many ways: tou-fou , teou-fou , to-fu , fromage de daizu , and fromage de soja . Other early names were tofou (Trabut 1898), fromage de Haricots (Bloch 1906), fromage de soja (Li 1911 Beltzer 1911), fromage vegetal (Beltzer 1911), and petits fromages blancs de soja (Giraud-Gillet 1942). By 1982 the two most widely used names were le tofou and le fromage de soja , with the former being the most popular.

In German, tofu has generally been known by two names since earliest times: tofu and bohnenkaese (Ritter 1874 Langgaard 1878 Rein 1889 Kellner 1895 Loew 1906 Honcamp 1910). In 1914 Grimme first referred to it as sojakaese . By 1982 das tofu had become the most widely used term.

Origin and Early Development to 960 AD . Tofu almost certainly originated in China its date of origin, however, is uncertain. The earliest existing document containing mention of the term "doufu" is the Ch'ing I Lu ( Seiiroku in Japanese), written by T'ao Ku in about 950 AD. There are at least four theories concerning the origin of tofu in China. The Liu An Theory states that tofu was developed by Liu An, King of Huai-nan, who lived in the southeast part of north China from 179-122 BC. The Accidental Coagulation Theory states that tofu was developed quite by accident, probably prior to AD 600, when someone, probably in northern China, seasoned a pureed soybean soup with unrefined sea salt containing natural nigari and noticed that curds formed. The Indian Import Theory states that tofu, or at least the basic method for its preparation, was imported from the dairying tribes or perhaps the Buddhist monks of India. The Mongolian Import Theory states that the basic method for making tofu was adapted from the cheese-making process learned from milk-drinking Mongolian tribes living along the northern border of China.

The first two theories suggest that the method of tofu coagulation originated in China. Since soybeans were considered one of the Five Sacred Grains ( wu ku ), they were probably dried like other grains before being cooked. If later boiled, they could either be added to the water whole, or first ground or mashed to make puree. If used in puree form, the result would be a thick soup or porridge that would have to be seasoned. If the cook added unrefined sea salt, which always contained the natural coagulant, nigari, curds would have formed. Curding might also have resulted if the soup were allowed to stand in a warm place until lactic acid-producing bacteria made enough lactic acid to form curds. Alternatively, the cook might have strained the soup to remove the fibrous soy pulp (okara) this would give the resulting curds a finer, more delicate texture. The next step, pressing, would have given the curds a firm texture, allowing it to be cut and extending its storage life. The final result would have been quite similar to today's tofu.

The third and fourth theories suggest that, since the Chinese did not generally raise cows or goats for milk, they were probably not familiar initially with the curding process. They may have learned it from either the Indians far to the southwest or from the nomadic Mongolian tribes just to the north, both of whom practiced dairying and made curds, cheeses, and fermented milk products. We will examine these two import theories as we come to them in their historical context.

While the last three of these four theories all seem reasonable, there is, unfortunately, relatively little evidence to support any of them, except the Mongolian Import Theory. Yet it is important to note that, as explained in Chapter 33, there is written evidence to show that soymilk existed in China by 82 AD, and may have existed several centuries before that time. Of the four theories, the Liu An Theory is by far the best known unfortunately, it is probably the least likely to be true. Who was Liu An and what evidence do we have that he developed tofu?

Liu An was born of noble ancestry in northern China in 179 BC. The two main documents describing his life are the Historical Record ( Shih Chi , Chapter 118 Watson 1961) by the great historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien, who died about 85 BC, and the Han Shu (Jap. Kansho Chap. 44 Swann 1950), written about 90 AD by Pan Ku (AD 32-92). The Historical Record was published in about 90 BC the Han Shu was derived in large part from it.

Liu An was the grandson of the founder of the Han dynasty. His paternal grandfather Liu Pang, generally known by his posthumous name Kao Tsu, was the powerful first emperor of that great dynasty he died in 195 BC. Liu An's father was Li Wang Ch'en (Jap. Reiocho 199-174 BC), an illegitimate son of Kao Tsu and the younger half brother of Wu Ti, one of the greatest of the Han emperors. Liu An's father led a tragic life. Born in prison, where his mother had committed suicide shortly after his birth. Liu An's father was raised in Kao Tsu's palace, then at an early age made king ( wang ) of Huai-nan (a name that means "south of the Huai River"). The location of his kingdom is shown in Figure 8.1. In 195 BC, Kao Tsu died and in 179 BC, the same year Li An was born, Wu Ti became emperor of Han. A few years thereafter, Liu An's father, who was a very strong and haughty person, killed the man whom he felt was responsible for his mother's suicide in prison. Wu Ti, his gentle and understanding half brother, pardoned him. However in 174 BC Liu An's father attempted a revolt to overthrow the emperor Wu Ti, and Wu Ti had him banished to the West. He died, fasting insolently, on the way. Wu Ti grieved over the death of his half brother, so in 164 BC he divided his deceased brother's kingdom among his brother's three sons. Liu An, then Marquis of Fu-ling, became King of Huai-nan at age 15. Some recent writers (Morse 1931) give 164 BC as the year in which Liu An developed tofu.

Liu An soon made a fine name for himself. In the Historical Records , Ssu-ma Ch'ien says: "Liu An, king of Huai-nan, was by nature fond of reading books and playing the lute he took no interest in shooting, hunting, or dashing about with dogs. He hoped to win the support of his people by doing secret favors for them and to achieve a reputation throughout the empire" (Watson 1961). Historically, Liu An is especially well known because of the Huai-nan Tzu (Tzu means "prince"), a 21-chapter work compiled under his patronage at his court by scholars he had summoned. Predominatly Taoist, this work on philosophy, morals, and statecraft, is also full of omen lore, cosmological speculation, and concepts from diverse other philosophical sources (Reischauer and Fairbank 1960 Needham 1954-86 Morgan 1933). Note that despite a statement by Adolph (1922) to the contrary, Liu An was not a "great friend of Buddhist monks," for Buddhism had not yet arrived in China. It is very important to note that the Huai-nan Tzu contains no reference to tofu. It does mention shu (beans or soybeans) in several places, giving instructions for planting them by the constellations, noting their season of growth, and adding that they grow well when fertilizied by mud from the river bottoms (Wu 1848). In the book there is also the phrase "a meat shop owner's bean soup," meaning that a person who sells meat, being unable to afford eating it, eats bean soup (Shinoda 1974). Thus, there is only faint evidence in the Huai-nan Tzu to connect Liu An with the development of tofu.

Liu An's nature was not all good. He began to bear a grudge against Wu Ti for his father's death. In 139 BC he journeyed to the Han capital and was praised by a friend there who said, "There is no one who has not heard of your reputation for benevolence and righteous conduct." A marquis also suggested that, since there was no clear heir to the emperor's throne, Liu An might be fit to receive it. In about 135 BC, Liu An began to plan a revolt to place himself on the throne after the emperor's death. A first attempt failed and Liu An was punished. When Wu Ti heard that a second revolt was being plotted, he sent men to arrest Liu An, but just before they arrived Liu An was warned and he committed suicide by cutting his own throat. It was October, 122 BC. At the beginning of the Later Han a legend appeared, which said that Liu An, rather than committing suicide, had been ushered up to heaven by the eight immortals of Taoist mythology.

In later ages, because of his fame and his dabbling in Taoism, alchemy, and related semi-magical practices, Liu An came to be regarded as the Father of Chemistry and the Taoist arts, in much the same way that all plant domestication was attributed to Shen Nung, and all Near-Eastern plant introductions were credited (incorrectly) to Chang Ch'ien. The strange, semi-mystical nature of Huai-nan culture strengthened the association. It is true that soybeans certainly existed in Liu An's time and soymilk may well have been known, so it is conceivable that he did know of or even invent tofu. However it is much more likely that he did not invent tofu, and that later generations merely ascribed its invention to him for various reasons: First, Chinese have traditionally liked to attribute the invention or development of good things to ancient characters of noble birth and/or high virtue. Second, a series of almost magical or alchemical transformations seem to take place in the processes of converting yellow or green soybeans into white soymilk, then the milk into cloudlike curds and pale yellow whey, and finally the delicate curds into firm cakes of tofu. And third, the Chinese have long considered tofu to be a food that promotes long life and good health--a good way to provide a rational explanation for Liu An's immortality. In fact, Sun Ta-ya (Jap. Sontaiga) of the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) wrote that Liu An ate tofu, grew younger, eventually sprouted wings, and ascended to heaven, thus clearly linking the eating of tofu with immortality. Finally, since tofu later became a key protein source in the meatless diets of many Chinese (especially Buddhists) doing meditation or other spiritual practice, it might have been assumed that Liu An and his Taoist friends practice a similar diet, with tofu as their protein source.

The legend of Liu An as the person who first developed tofu and soymilk was slow to take root. There was no mention of tofu or soymilk in any works commissioned by Liu An, nor in any works about him for more than 1,000 years after his death. As we will see later, the linking of his name with the development of tofu did not start until the 12th century AD and it was not firmly established until 1578.

According to Li (1912) there is an allusion to tofu and soymilk in the rhymes of the great poet Sou of the 2nd century AD. He wrote, "The tender jade gets perfumed by the kettle" (the poet implies the resemblance of fresh tofu with jade) and "to cook the peas in milk and the grain in butter." While this connection remains speculative, Li noted that "One can see that the idea of vegetable milk does not date from yesterday."

The Mongolian Import Theory of tofu's origin has been proposed by Shinoda (1971), Japan's foremost authority on Chinese foods and their history. He notes that from the 4th to the 7th centuries AD, nomadic dairying tribes from northcentral Asia migrated southward into China, bringing with them their skills and technology for making cultured milk products such as yogurt and cheeselike foods. Although the Chinese had a highly developed civilization since long before the Christian era, they never developed the art of dairy farming (see Chap. 33) or, consequently, of preparing cultured milk products. Shinoda believed that when the Chinese were introduced to the Mongol's cultured milk product (resembling a yogurt or cheese), it was called rufu by the Mongols. In order to write this word in Chinese, the Chinese had to choose two characters which had the sounds of those two syllables. Fortunately, the character meaning "milk" was pronounced ru . To convey the sound fu the Chinese selected a character that ordinarily meant "spoiled." This choice probably reflected, in part, a certain contempt the Chinese felt for the Mongols, whom they considered to be inferior and uncivilized barbarians. But it may also have reflected the fact that fermentation and spoilage are closely related microbiological processes. The term rufu first appeared in written Chinese during the Sui dynasty (AD 581-618). Later the fu came to be used in many words relating to foods with a consistency like that of yogurt or soft cheese. Over the next few centuries, however, the Chinese grew quite fond of this Mongolian cultured milk product, and at about this time they probably began to adapt the imported cheese-making skills and technology to the curding of tofu to make soymilk, substituting various indigenous mineral salt- or acid coagulants for the rennet and bacterial cultures. Interestingly the character "spoiled" that they had initially used derogatorily for the Mongolian dairy cheese eventually came to be used in the name of their own soy cheese, which was called doufu the term dou (bean or soybean) simply replaced the term ru (milk). Translated literally, then, tofu means "soybean spoiled." The Chinese insult had boomeranged, and it remains with them to this day. It is not known what the original tofu coagulants were, but today nigari ( lu , yanlu , or lushui ), a by-product of the process of refining sea salt and consisting primarily of magnesium chloride), is used in the northern and coastal areas. Calcium sulfate in the form of burned powdered gypsum ( shigao or shou shigao ) mined from the mountains, is used in the southern and inland areas. Soured whey ( swan giang ??), allowed to ferment naturally overnight) and vinegar are also reported to be used here and there in the south. Advocates of the imported dairy curds theories also note that three other mild-flavored foods, which are among the most popular delicacies in China, were also imported: swallows' nests ( yen-wo , made by swallows from edible seaweeds), shark fins ( yu-ch'ih ), and trepang (sea cucumbers, also called bêche-de-mer in French).

Shinoda believed that after the middle of the T'ang dynasty (i.e. after about AD 750) the Chinese, who still had no dairy animals, began to make tofu instead of dairy cheese.

Exhaustive searches of early Chinese literature by Shinoda (1968) and others have revealed that the world's earliest reference to the word doufu appears in the Ch'ing I Lu (Jap. Seiiroku ), written by T'ao Ku in about AD 950, just before the Sung dynasty. Note that this was more than 1,000 years after the supposed discovery of tofu by Liu An prior to 122 BC. The Ch'ing I Lu states: "In the daily market were several catties of doufu. People of the region called doufu the `vice mayor's mutton.'" It goes on to tell the story of a vice mayor named Jishu, who was so poor that he couldn't afford to buy mutton. Instead he bought a few pieces of tofu every day and ate them as a side dish with rice. Soon people in that area came to call tofu the "vice mayor's mutton." The story implies that tofu was widely consumed in those days and that it was less expensive than mutton. In fact, Shinoda (1971) believes that by the start of the Sung dynasty in 960 AD, tofu was popular all over China. After the publication of the Ch'ing I Lu , reference to tofu began to appear in many other works.

Sung Dynasty (960-1279) . During the Sung dynasty tofu became a common food of the lower classes. The first suggestion of some connection between Liu An and tofu appeared in the poems of Chu Hsi (1130-1200), the greatest scholar of the Sung. In Volume III he wrote a poem entitled "Doufu."

I have raised beans for many years, but the sprouts were rare.

Exhausted in the garden, the heart already rotten

Had I known Huai-nan's skill earlier,

I could have sat quietly, raking in the money.

At about the same time that Chu Hsi's poem was written, a most interesting story about tofu appeared in a book called the Tou-lu Tzu-jou Chuan (Jap. Toroshi ju-den ) written by Yang Wan-li (Jap. Yomanri). This account, which in part gave rise to the Indian Import Theory of tofu's origin, is allegorical, fanciful, and full of historical discrepancies, but it contains some very interesting historical implications. Because it includes numerous names and terms with double meanings, it is almost impossible to translate and even difficult for a Chinese to understand. The story takes place in the Ch'in dynasty (221-206 BC, the dynasty just before the one in which Liu An lived). The name of the hero is Tou Lu-shih (Jap. Toro-shi, or "Mr. Toro"). His first name is "Fu," and his nickname is Shiju. Tou Lu-shih is the name of a famous tribe that lived in northern China from the Three Kingdoms dynasty (220-265 BC) to the T'ang (618-907 AD). The hero's name is a play on words, since his last name combined with his first name (Toro-Fu) can mean "tofu" and his last name combined with the last character in his nickname (Toro-Ju) can mean "soymilk." In any case, Fu heard that Bodhidharma had come to China from the West. (Bodhidharma was a fierce-looking South Indian monk, who is said to have arrived in Henan (Honan) province, where he lived for 8 years and founded the Chinese Ch'an or Zen school. It is not certain that he was an historical character.)

Fu went to Bodhidharma and asked to become his disciple. Bodhidharma asked him, "Do you wish to become the heart-and-mind of the God of heaven, earth, and nature, rinse off all superficial knowledge, and follow me?" The story then says that Fu went home, washed his body, changed his clothes, and vowed to speak only the truth wholeheartedly to Bodhidharma. However this same sentence can also be interpreted to mean: "Wash soybeans well and make them into tofu." Bodhidharma then engaged Fu in Dharma combat, probing the depths of his heart-and-mind. He was very impressed with Fu's simple, honest, straightforward, and humble nature. Bodhidharma then told Fu that his own teacher had told him that there is a subtle and wonderful essence of flavor that remains in the curds when milk is curded, and that the flavor of Fu's being is this most delicious of all flavors, called daigomi ?? (The term means "Five Great Flavors" in Chinese the same term was used to describe the curds the Buddha ate just before his enlightenment.) Bodhidharma recommended Fu to the Emperor Wu Ti (who reigned 140-85 BC), saying "Although this man Fu is from the lower classes, he is a man of integrity with a beautiful pure heart and excellent taste. His spirit could be compared with that of a food offering." According to the story, in about 116-111 BC (this date does not jibe with the dates Bodhidharma was supposed to have been in China), Fu went to the emperor with an application for work in which he said "I don't want to fight, I am happy to be wearing my robes of white, and I would like to work with these two men (whose names in Chinese mean "simmering in a pot" and "broiling"). Fu was given a high position. Soon the emperor retired to live a spiritual life of meditation, avoiding onions, garlic, wine, and women. He chose Fu as his attendant. Fu hesitated modestly then recommended instead his friend (whose name in Chinese means "cow"). The emperor replied, "I am sure he is beautiful but in the long run I'd grow tired of him his talk is too sweet and fancy." There is then a play on words in which Fu intimates that he should be eaten with ginger. Finally the emperor fired Fu (people whose names mean "mutton" were very happy), so he took a simple pot, went alone into the mountains, and was not heard of again. Thus ends the story (Shinoda 1971??).

In this story, there is no mention of Liu An nor his supposed development of tofu. Shinoda (1971), who discusses this story in detail, points out that in early China tofu had another name, li ch'i , which is thought to have come from Western China (probably Sichuan) or to have been derived from Sanskrit. From the Han to the T'ang dynasties (AD 100-900) it probably referred to a Mongol cultured milk product, but during the Sung and Yuan dynasties it came to refer to tofu. (Adolph, in 1922, noted that li ch'i probably meant "morning prayer," perhaps because tofu is made in the early hours of morning and sold at daybreak.) Although it is not stated in the story that tofu came from the West or from India, the combination of the name li ch'i , the fact that Bodhidharma is said to have come from China (didn't he come from the West?), and Bodhidharma's story of the curds, all make this a possibility, albeit a slim one. Although the story is fictional, it may also suggest that tofu was used by Chinese Zen (Ch'an) monks at an early date in their vegetarian cookery.

In about 1200 an early tofu recipe appeared in the Sanka Senkyo (Cit?, ??char): "Pick a lotus flower, remove the center and calyx, then simmer it with tofu. The colors red and white combine to look like mist on a sunny day after snow. Season with red spices if desired."

In a work of the late Sung dynasty, there is a description of the menu served by a king to a prince tofu is included.

Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) . Little is known of tofu during this period of Mongol rule. In a drama during the period there is a story of a sake maker who's sake turned into vinegar. He said, "If our luck is this bad, we should become tofu makers without complaint," implying a low rank for the latter profession. Chen Yun-tan (1327-1356) wrote an ode entitled "Doufu." (Cit??)

Sow the beans beneath South Mountain.

Frosty winds rattle the few pods.

Grinding lets the jade milk flow.

Boiling coagulates the clear spring.

In appearance, clear as winter radish.

The fragrance strong as the marrow of stone.

The taste is so good.

This food of jade, which no tradition has handed


The references to jade allude to the precious white variety. The last line appears to be commenting on the lack of historical information concerning tofu's origin and development.

Ming Dynasty (1368-1662) . During the Ming, tofu became popular among the rich as well as the poor. Sometimes tofu was even made especially for the emperor. And one of the rulers of this period was said to have been the father of a tofu maker. The Ancestral Admonitions , issued in 1381, established various government bureaus staffed by palace eunuchs. The imperial wine bureau oversaw the production of tofu and soybean meal (what is it??) (Chang 1977 p. 212, Fritz Mote). In the late 14th century, Lo Ch'i in "The Origin of Things," noted that "Liu An made tofu." The idea was further elaborated on by Su Ping in about 1500. (2 cites??).

The best is king Huai-nan's skill.

You see the beauty when you peel.

Ground in mortar, and milk flows.

Boil in water and it turns to snow.

Soak in the jar and white curds show.

Cut with a knife, yet the jade is sound.

Who knows the delicacy of the curd?

Only the Buddhist and the Taoist.

In 1578 Li Shih-chen completed the Pen-ts'ao kang-mu , which was published in 1597. It became China's most authoritative and famous herbal and Materia Medica (see Chapt. 4). In the section on "Doufu" (XXV:7) he wrote: "The earliest mention of the method of making tofu is found in the Han dynasty Taoist work entitled Huai-nan-tzu , the writings of Liu An. According to this work, tofu can be made from black, yellow or white soybeans, peas or green beans. To make tofu, wash the beans and grind them with water, filter out the sediment and boil the liquid thoroughly in a vessel, adding nigari diluted in water, or a decoction of the leaves of the shan fan tree ( Symplocos prunifolia ), or soured whey from previous tofu. Pour this into a vat containing powdered gypsum mix well. This mixture generally has a salty, bitterish, or sour acrid taste, and the substance which congeals on the surface should be removed and sun dried. This is called doufu pi (yuba) and is regarded as a delicacy" (Wu 1848, Stuart 1911). It was primarily because of this passage that most people in later ages came to think that Liu An was the first person to make tofu. Unfortunately the statements about tofu which Li says are found in the Huai-nan-tzu , simply are not. The Pen-ts'ao also contains a description for making rufu , by curding dairy milk with vinegar, straining off the whey, wrapping the curds in silk, pressing them with a stone, then adding salt and storing them in an earthenware crock.

Ching Dynasty (1662-1912) . By the Ching, tofu was a basic staple in China and probably the most popular soyfood. Firm tofu and fermented tofu may have been the two most popular types. In 1665 Navarrete was the first Westerner to mention tofu in China (Cummins 1962). Osbeck referred to it in 1751 (Osbeck 1757).

In 1795 Yuan Mei's classic recipe book, the Suei-yuan Hin-tan (Cit??), was published. Considered by many to be the Bible of Chinese cuisine, it contains frequent mention of tofu. At about this time the famous Oshiyu (Char Chinese pron??) wrote in his book Zuisokui Inshokufu (Cit. Char. Chinese pron. Date??): "Tofu makes the body cool, removes toxic substances from it, and cleans the intestines. It is especially effective in curing people who have dysentery or jaundice. It was also said that Setaigo (Who is she?? Char. Chinese pron. Date??) had 49 tofu forming boxes decorated with pearls in her palace kitchen. She ate tofu every day because she thought it was good for her beauty care (Lin 1975). Wu (1848) gave extensive information on the medicinal or therapeutic properties of tofu. "Generally speaking, during the hot months, when people are suffering from the heat and perspiration, care should be taken in eating tofu." If tofu is cooked with vinegar, it will help cure dysentery. In about 1905 China's most popular tofu recipe, Mabo Doufu, was developed by a lady in Sichuan province. Tofu increasingly permeated the language. A "tofu government official" was one who was honest, but a "tofu girl" referred to a poor girl who had left home. Finding fault with a person was compared to "finding a bone in your tofu" (Lin 1975).

Starting in 1866?? the first detailed descriptions of the Chinese tofu making process were given by Westerners, including Champion (1866), Champion and Lhote (1869), Simon (1880), and Rein (1889) these will be discussed under European History, later. In 1911 King reported that tofu makers are thrifty recyclers, using agricultural wastes such as straw, stems, and rice hulls for fuel to heat their caldrons.

Developments from 1912-1949 . In 1918 Shih described the process for making regular tofu, yuba, tofu curds, firm tofu, pressed tofu sheets, and deep-fried tofu. He repeated the rumor that tofu had been developed by Liu An.

Nutritional research on tofu in China started in 1920, when Adolph and Kiang published a nutritional analysis of tofu. Additional nutritional research on tofu was done by Embrey and Wang (1921), Adolph (1926), Pian (1930), (Adolph and Chen (1932), Adolph and Kao (1932), and Cheng, Li, and Lan (1941) as detailed in Chapter 27. In 1922, Adolph, a chemistry professor at various Chinese universities, wrote a long and very interesting essay on tofu in China. He described the various tofu coagulants (gypsum was the most widely used, but only nigari was used in some areas), and noted that "Almost every town has at least one bean curd shop . . . Cakes of bean curd may be salted and dried, yielding a product which resembles our cream cheese . . . Bean curd is a real delicacy if carefully made and well cooked. Chinese who are connoisseurs on the subject assert that when so prepared it has the taste of pig's brains. Americans and Europeans eating Chinese food often eat carefully prepared bean curd thinking it is pork. With sugar it produces a dish like custard. Prepared with salt it resembles scrambled eggs . . . Some bird dealers employ tofu as the sole food for infant birds (stolen from their nests) . . . The true Buddhist monk, who from birth is consecrated to the priesthood, is carried through the period of childhood growth on a rather heavy diet of bean curd . . . A common saying in some parts of China terms `bean milk the poor man's milk, and bean curd the poor man's meat.'" Embrey and Wang (1921) noted that the Chinese made a type of tofu, called ma doufu , out of mung beans. Other writers of the period mentioned various types of tofu made from other types of beans. Horvath (1927), doing soyfoods research in Beijing, wrote a long chapter on tofu, but much of his information was drawn from Adolph 1922. He mentioned that tofu was called "the meat without bones," (first time??) gave a nutritional analysis of nine types of tofu including smoked tofu from Beijing, and noted that "In Peking (Beijing) at the Kai Cheng Bean Products Company, various preparations manufactured from tofu may be purchased, such as different kinds of soybean meat, soybean sausages, etc. The company has established a restaurant in Peking (86 Morrison St.) where one can get a Chinese dinner of numerous dishes prepared mostly from soybean products (chicken meat, pork, ham and beef, manufactured from tofu)." In 1937 Hommel, an American who lived in China for 7 years between 1921 and 1930, gave a detailed description of tofu and tofu making in China, with many fine photos from Zhejiang (Chekiang) and Jiangxi (Kiangsi). He reported that "It is usually a household manufacture, the people making it for their own consumption." Li (1948) also described the tofu-making process.

What Is Mongolian Food? Going Beyond the BBQ

Airag is a traditional drink in Mongolia. All photos courtesy of Kari Kozak Dahlstrom.

Say Mongolian food and the first thing that comes to mind is probably a modern chain restaurant. I mean, who doesn’t love a 20-foot, all-you-can-eat buffet filled with raw meat, fresh veggies, and concoct-your-own sauce? Add the excitement of a wannabe-ninja chef cooking on a 500-degree flat top grill, and you’ve got a fun and tasty dining experience. Toss in a raw egg and marvel as the chef expertly cracks and fries it with shiny three-foot tongs.

However, not only is “Mongolian barbecue” not really BBQ it’s not actually Mongolian either. It was invented by a Taiwanese man in Beijing and brought to Mongolia by an American company. The first U.S. franchise to open in Mongolia, in 2005, BD’s Mongolian Barbeque brought this dining concept to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. The bright, modern restaurant located in the central Sukhbaatar district features a full bar plus a wide selection of salads and desserts to accompany your main course.

So what IS Mongolian food? I traveled the country to learn more about this cuisine, and to experience the richness of Mongolian culture.

Food prep in western Mongolia.

Traditional Mongolian Food of the Nomads

To taste real-deal Mongolian barbecue, you have to head to the countryside. My local guide, Oso, from Nomadic Tours Asia, arranged a stay at Ar Burd Sand Camp located on a sandy steppe 140 kilometers south of Ulaanbaatar.

Traditional Mongolian “barbecue,” called khorkhog, is nothing like its modern cousin. A rural dish typically served for special occasions, khorkhog is made by cutting the meat of a sheep, goat, or camel into chunks. The meat is layered in a pressure cooker with large round stones that have been heated in a fire. A small amount of water is placed at the bottom of the cooker, then the meat, hot stones, salt and pepper, and sometimes vegetables such as cabbage and onion. The layering continues until the pot is full. It is then sealed and placed on a fire to cook for several hours.

A tray of khorkhog once removed from the pot.

This cooking method lets the heat cook the meat from both inside and outside the pot, ensuring an even cook. Our khorkhog was made with a full-grown sheep that had been slaughtered earlier in the day (side note: Mongolians never eat lamb). After a semi-dramatic pot opening (see the video, below), the meat was served with roasted broccoli, some of the best potatoes I’ve ever eaten, and a fresh salad.

Also served with the meal was the all-important buuz, a pinched steamed dumpling filled with meat, which Mongolians eat at least once a week. The tasty dumplings are believed to be good for health and are always eaten by hand, never with a fork. Also considered good for health and circulation is the tradition of holding the warm rocks from the khorkhog kettle.

One of my guides, Boogii (short for Bolortuya, which means crystal and light), explained that buuz are especially important when family ties are renewed during Lunar New Year (Tsagaan Sar) celebrations. During this time, each family makes 1,000 to 2,000 mutton dumplings, which they freeze outside until it’s time to serve. (Ulaanbaatar is the world’s coldest capital, with an average January temperature of -24°C, or -11°F.) When guests arrive, the dumplings are steamed in a rice cooker for 15-20 minutes. Each time a new guest arrives, more buuz are steamed—and the guests must eat them, as it’s impolite to refuse. And who’d want to refuse these yummy bundles of goodness anyway?

A plate of khorkhog and buuz (bottom center), plus veggies and amazing potatoes.

Food isn’t the only Mongolian tradition you’ll experience if you visit Ar Burd. You’ll sleep in one of 15 traditional Mongolian gers (yurts) made from wooden lattice covered by wool felt. Quickly set up and taken down, nomadic families have lived in gers for centuries, moving them across the countryside as they grazed their herds. At Ar Burd, you can also ride a two-humped Bactrian camel and have your photo taken in traditional clothing.

Another ger camp with great Mongolian cuisine is Mongol Nomadic Camp, just 55 kilometers west of UB. I knew I was in for an exceptional experience when the greeting party included five yaks, two camels, and two horses ridden by local men dressed in traditional deel clothing (robe-like tunics worn for centuries in Mongolia). A young man in bright orange boosted me onto a 1,300-pound shaggy black-haired mound of muscle, and I gazed through 3 feet of twisted yak horn as we sauntered down the sloping landscape to the nomadic camp.

Off the yak, I was escorted inside a family ger setup to share Mongolian culture with other curious visitors. The elder male of the family sat directly across from the door dressed in a shiny royal blue deel, embellished black trousers, and tan boots with turned-up toes. His wife, stunning in bright red, poured milk tea (known as süütei tsai or tsutai tsai) from a thermos into small white bowls. I was instructed to accept the bowl with both hands and sip it when it was handed to me—it’s impolite not to taste food that is offered. Mongolians drink this cow, camel, or sheep milk with tea and salt up to three times a day.

On the table was a large bowl of aaruul, dried curd so hard it’s often sucked rather than chewed. Aaruul is made from cow, yak, or camel milk that has been left to curdle. The solids are removed and the liquid drained off. What remains is formed into a cake and pressed, dried in the sun, and cut into small pieces. The flavor is like sour milk with a hint of sweetness. Because aaruul can last indefinitely, it is a perfect source of nutrition out in the Mongolian countryside. When paired with the dried meat called borts, a nomadic family has food to last throughout the difficult winter.

Next to the aaruul was a wooden bowl full of fried dough, called boortsog. Like a doughnut but less sweet, boortsog is made in different shapes and sizes and often dipped in tea or butter. Mine was served with a sour yogurt that helped moisten its otherwise dry consistency.

As I sampled the snacks, a young man sat down and began playing a traditional horsehead fiddle. When he opened his mouth, the most amazing sound came out. For the next few minutes, I was completely transfixed by the incredibly deep, melodic tones of Mongolian throat singing. This unique artform takes years to master and involves the ability to sustain multiple notes for long periods of time through a specialized breathing technique.

Soon the family elder began a drinking game, choosing another visitor—Dolly, a retired police officer from California—as his partner. The man and Dolly each popped up various fingers in a sort of rock, paper, scissors game. When Dolly lost, her penalty was to drink vodka out of an animal horn.

Vodka, Vodka, and More Vodka

Vodka is the most common alcohol in Mongolia—in fact, some claim it may have originated there. While its true origin cannot be verified, Mongolians have been making vodka for centuries. Out in the countryside, nomadic families make their own style of vodka called airag. Also known as koumiss, airag has an alcoholic content of 3 to 5 percent and is made from fermented mare’s milk. It is cloudy white and has a slightly sour taste with just a bit of sweetness.

Mongolians love their vodka: store shelves in Ulaanbaatar.

As with milk tea, each region’s version is different based upon the grass on which the horse has grazed. The Bulgan province, just west of the capital, is known for its high-quality airag. Some visitors travel to Mongolia just to try airag and its cousin, arkhi, a more potent, distilled version made from cow, yak, or goat milk.

In UB and other cities, grocery stores display shelf after shelf of shiny bottles of mass-produced, clear vodkas. Chinggis, Eden, and Soyombo are popular brands. Local restaurants and hotel bars offer vast menus of vodka choices that can be served straight up or in mixed drinks. To enjoy a view with your cocktail, head to the bar on the 25th floor of the Best Western Premier Tuushin hotel (map) or to the superchic Blue Sky Lounge atop Blue Sky Tower (map), both in UB’s central Sukhbaatar district.

Kazakh women prepare food in western Mongolia.

Mongolia’s Kazakh Cuisine

Like many tourists, I visited Mongolia to attend the Golden Eagle Festival, made famous by the movie The Eagle Huntress. The annual event is held in the westernmost province, Bayan-Ölgii, about 1,200 miles and a three-hour flight from UB.

This part of Mongolia nearly noses up to Kazakhstan and is home to thousands of Kazakh people. At the festival, hunters of all ages demonstrate their heritage using golden eagles to hunt for small animals. Mounted on horseback, the hunters call their eagles from high atop a mountain and receive points for speed and accuracy as their eagle returns to them.

A Kazakh woman shows off her stew in western Mongolia.

Mongolia’s largest ethnic minority population, the Kazakhs are culturally different from Mongolians in language, religion, music, and food. Like Mongolians, Kazakhs rarely eat meals without meat. However, being Muslim in faith, the Kazakhs’ meat is halal. In western Mongolia, meat is generally boiled or slow-cooked for several hours and prepared with more spice. Cabbage, potatoes, and onions are common and may be cooked with or served alongside the meat.

On my way to the festival, I stayed at a traditional ger camp along the Khovd River with a group of fellow photographers. At our riverside camp, the head chef and her daughter-in-law served us delicious meals cooked over a coal-burning stove. The dining ger was filled with tremendous smells as hearty soups and steaming stews bubbled away until the mutton or beef and vegetables were tender. Our meals were accompanied by crunchy cabbage slaws, sliced cucumbers, and ripe tomatoes.

Kazakh manti in western Mongolia.

The Kazakhs have their own version of a meat-filled dumpling. Called manti(as in Turkey),the dumplings are typically filled with a spiced ground beef or mutton mixture. The meat is placed in the center and the supple dough expertly pinched before boiling or steaming. Each and every day our kind chefs doted over their carefully crafted manti.

One afternoon we had the tremendous opportunity to photograph a group of eagle hunters out in the countryside and visit their family’s ger camp. While at camp, we were served the most popular traditional Kazakh dish, called besbarmak. The name translates to “five fingers,” indicating that the dish is eaten with the hands. Besbarmak consists of meat, broth, and pasta. Ours was plated with boiled potatoes and accompanied by a vegetable slaw, baursak(a fried dough similar to boortsog), and large chunks of dried sour cream called kurt, which is similar to Mongolian aaruul.

Kazakh food in western Mongolia.

After the meal, one of the eagle hunters played a hollow stringed instrument called the dombra and sang folk songs for us. The day was an incredible invitation to soak up the local culture through food and music. Though we didn’t speak the same language, we made a human connection as we discovered the eagle hunters’ way of life.

Traditional or Modern, Meat Is Always King

By now you’ve probably noticed this is a meat-heavy cuisine—that’s thanks to Mongolia’s nomadic history and extreme climate. After all, it’s hard to grow vegetables if you are continually moving your herd in an extremely harsh landscape.

Back in Ulaanbaatar for a few days, I had the chance to check out some contemporary restaurants, where meat remains popular.With 1.5 million citizens—that’s half the entire country’s population—UB has no shortage of places to get a hearty meal, traditional or not. Adventurous carnivores will love Khainag Grill (map) and its variety of organic meats, including beef, camel, goat, horse, lamb, pork, and yak. Diners can choose one or get the chef’s tasting with four types of protein. The meat is cooked right at the table, either by the diners themselves (don an apron and get to grillin’) or by the in-house chef. The restaurant, situated on the 27th floor of the four-star Khuvsgul Lake Hotel, has incredible views too, as it’s right next to the coolest rooftop terrace featuring one of the city’s three helicopter pads.

One of my favorite UB spots was much less adventurous, but just as meaty. Black Burger Factory (map), a contemporary burger joint, offers several choices of burgers and wraps, some served on a signature black bun made with squid ink. I loved the steak burger with marinated chunks of tender steak, cucumbers, jalapeño, and spicy sauce. As a fun gimmick, Black Burger offers diners a pair of black plastic gloves to keep their hands clean while eating the messy burgers. Poultry and, yes, even veggie and vegan options are also available.

For an upscale dining experience, I liked Route 22 Restaurant and Wine Lounge (map), not far from Sukhbaatar Square. Its extensive menu features both Mongolian and international fare. Here you can find the traditional meat pie called khuushuur: fried dough filled with minced mutton, salt, and onions, served here with a mild sauce on the side plus a dinner salad. As the name implies, Route 22 features an extensive wine list too, including some Mongolian options.

Mongolia is a travel destination like no other, with remarkable landscapes, genuine people, rich traditions—and relatively few tourists. Whether you head to Ulaanbaatar or spend time in the vast countryside, the traditional and modern Mongolian cuisine is well worth exploring. The city, of course, is easier to navigate, as most attractions are centrally located. But the rewards are rich when traveling the countryside, where you’ll want a guide to help you navigate the roadless terrain. There’s never been a better time to discover all this country has to offer.

About the author: Kari Kozak Dahlstrom is a traveler, writer and photographer based in Tacoma, Washington. When it comes to travel adventures, her motto is, “Do it!” Follow Kari on Instagram @Kari_Dahlstrom_photography.

English Chinese Pronunciation Characters
Bean Curd with Mince and Chili Oil mápó dòufu maa-por doh-foo 麻婆豆腐
Tofu Soup dòufu tāng doh-foo tung 豆腐汤
Tofu and Chopped Scallion Soup xiǎocōng bàn dòufu sshyaoww-tsong ban doh-foo 小葱拌豆腐
Tofu Jelly dòufu nǎo doh-foo naoww 豆腐脑
Tofu and Shrimp Balls dòufu xiān xiā wán doh-foo sshyen sshyaa wan 豆腐鲜虾丸

Eating Chinese food in a local restaurant

If you want to try authentic Chinese food, China Highlights can help you.

Traditionally Pressed Mongol Curd - History

At midsummer, the people in the Nordic countries celebrate the lightest time of the year and the proper start of summer season. The short winter days are far behind and one can enjoy the long days and white nights of Nordic summer.

Although an ancient feast, midsummer is still an important national festival in Finland, as well as in Sweden and Norway.

Midsummer is celebrated on June 24th, but in Finland (in year 1955) and Sweden (in year 1953), the date was moved to fall on the first Saturday after June 19th, on the initiative of labour organizations.

In picture above: Helsinki skyline from the sea at midnight around the summer solstice.

The major midsummer festivities in Finland and Sweden take place on Midsummer Eve, the Friday preceding the Midsummer Day. Like Christmas Eve, the Midsummer Eve is a public holiday, during which only stores are open part of the day.

Midsummer is also the time of summer solstice, the culmination of summer and a turning point after which the days begin to slowly shorten again in the northern hemisphere. The day of summer solstice falls between the 20th and 22nd of June.

During the period called polar days, the nights are short and light, while in the regions north of the arctic circle the sun does not set below the horizon at all for several weeks. In the village of Nuorgam, situated near the northernmost point of Finland, the sun does not set between the mid-May and the end of July.

Note: on the longest day of the year, the sun in Helsinki, southern Finland rises at 03:54 and sets at 22:50 [GMT + 3:00 (Eastern European Daylight/Summer Time)].

Pagan feast and the name day of St. John the Baptist

At midsummer, after the spring sowing, the ancient Finns celebrated the feast of Ukko, the pagan Finnish god of weather, fertility, and growth.

Midsummer was celebrated as a feast of fertility until the Christian era, during which the 24th of June was fixed to commemorate the birth of John the Baptist, the saint who baptized Jesus.

In picture on right: a detail from "The Birth of John the Baptist" by Tintoretto (1550s).

Although the Christian church has celebrated June 24th as the birthday of John the Baptist since the 5th century, the day is not a major festival in the Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran Church. The modern Finnish midsummer celebration is a mixture of pagan and Christian traditions. It is celebrated on the Saturday falling between June 20th and 26th.

Finnish summer holiday season

The receding winter gives way to Finnish summer and a more relaxed way of life.

At midsummer, many people start their summer holiday, normally lasting for four weeks.
(Here in Finland, all employees, after their first year of work, get a minimum of 30 statutory paid vacation days, Sundays excluded, plus up to fourteen paid public holidays a year. Jealous? :-)

The weather permitting, some Finns like to spend the brief summer enjoying the outdoors. They head to their summer cottages, go swimming, boating or sailing or attend the numerous art and music festivals or other cultural events held throughout the country.

Since warm and sunny summer weather is not always guaranteed in Finland, some Finns like to spend part of their holidays travelling abroad.

Many Finns like to spend the midsummer in the countryside. People head for their cottages and summer cabins, leaving towns and cities deserted.

Most people living in Helsinki, the Finnish capital, are originally from countryside, or at least their parents have a rural background. In summertime, these "yokels" mostly return to their home counties and parental homes, leaving a tiny minority of us urbanites to enjoy the peace and quiet of the capital city, which turns almost into a ghost town.

A summer cottage with a lakeside sauna is a summer dream for most Finns. They long to escape the busy city life to spend their holiday quietly in the bosom of Mother Nature, chopping firewood, fetching water from a lake or a well, bathing in sauna and eating barbecued food for days on end.

According to one study, only 7 % of Finns (myself included!) have no desire whatsoever for a countryside vacation.

Midsummer is a popular day for church confirmations and summer weddings in Finland. Many commercial midsummer festivals are organized around the country, consisting of good eating and (usually too heavy) drinking, dancing, singing and burning of bonfires.

In picture on right: Finnish youngsters attending a church confirmation.

Burning bonfires to celebrate a great feast is an old tradition that has been practised in many countries. In the old times, bonfires were burnt to dispel evil spirits and bad fortune or to enhance light and warmth and the fertility of domestic animals, crops and people. In modern day Finland, bonfires are mainly burnt in midsummer, although in some regions they are also burnt on Easter Saturday.

Formerly, large bonfires were built on hills and lakeshores in every village of eastern Finland. Besides tree branches and twigs, the largest bonfires consisted of whole old rowing boats, wooden barrels and other used-up tools or farming equipment. Everyone in the village gathered to watch the bonfire burn and to dance, sing and play games together. This custom spread throughout Finland and is still practised here today.

A traditional midsummer bonfire event is held every year at the open-air museum of Seurasaari, located in Helsinki. The museum consists of historical rural buildings, cottages and farmsteads collected around Finland. The highlight of the event, including a genuine midsummer wedding, is the lighting of a huge bonfire, one of which is shown in the picture above left.

In Sweden, and in some Swedish-speaking regions of Finland, tall midsummer poles are erected on Midsummer Eve, similar to the maypoles raised in the continental Europe and Britain. The pole is decorated with green leaves, garlands, wreaths and flowers before raising. During the evening, traditional folk music is played with people dancing and playing around the pole. Some people may wear national costumes to highlight the celebration.

In some parts of western Finland, it was a tradition to raise a tall and narrow spruce tree instead of a decorated midsummer pole. The spruce was stripped of its lower branches and only the top few branches were left in place. Like the midsummer poles, the spruce was left to stand on the yard until the next midsummer. The midsummer pole may be seen as a phallic symbol of ancient pagan fertility rites.

Midsummer decorations

The effect of early summer's fresh verdancy is seen in the decorations used in Finnish midsummer celebration. An old tradition is to decorate the house and yard with young leafy trees like birch or aspen. The cut trees were placed standing at either side of doorways, gates or doorsteps, and windows were bordered with leafy branches.

Scented flowers, like lilies of the valley, or blossoming branches of mountain ash, bird cherry and lilac are brought in and placed in vases. These customs are still practised in countryside and on summer cottages during midsummer celebration.

In some parts of Finland, it was a custom for young men to build arbours on farm yards, using leafy branches of birch. Even cows were decorated with green leaves or lilies of the valley to ensure they would be milking properly.

Fresh birch twigs are also gathered to tie up special switches that are then used to slap oneself while bathing in Finnish sauna.

In picture on right: a Finnish birch switch in sauna.

Midsummer night magic

Many magical and supernatural aspects have traditionally been linked to midsummer night, the shortest night of the year, giving cause to various religious and superstitious beliefs.

Although being a feast of light, new life and nature in its prime, midsummer is also the turning point at which the days begin to shorten again, and darkness will slowly start increasing. In the old times, this raised fear and uncertainty about the future.

Strange things were known to happen on midsummer night, when evil spirits and witches were thought to be roaming around.

By performing magical rites people believed they could secure a better future for themselves, to ensure a good fortune for the household, an abundant crop and protect the livestock from illnesses.

Many of these rites were connected with fortune, happiness, love, marriage and relationships or predicting of the future.

Various herbs and medicinal plants picked on midsummer night, before the morning dew had fallen, were thought to be at the peak of their power. The dew formed on midsummer night was believed to have healing powers.

Cattle could be protected by hanging mountain ash branches from the ceiling of the stall and their illnesses cured by feeding the animals hay that had been mown on Midsummer Eve.

Dreams could be made come true by sleeping through midsummer night with nine different flowers placed under the pillow. According to some beliefs, the flowers had to be picked in the lands of three different farmsteads, without uttering a word.

One could see in the future by sitting on the rooftop of a house that had been thrice moved from its premises, or by sitting under an old apple tree on midsummer night. One could even see the devil himself if one would strip oneself naked and run thrice around a rye field.

On midsummer night, one could catch a treasure by keeping an eye on will-o'-the-wisps, the phosphorescent lights that can sometimes be seen flickering over marshlands. The light would reveal a spot on which a treasure has been buried.

  • A girl picks seven or nine different species of wild flowers and places them under her pillow for the night. While sleeping, the face or the name of her future husband will be revealed for her in a dream.
  • If a girl picks the nine flowers in nine different meadows, she will meet her future husband on Midsummer Eve.
  • A girl eats salty food, usually salted fish, before going to bed. In her sleep she gets thirsty, and he who brings her water in her dream will be her future husband.
  • If a girl rolls around naked on a dewy field, she is sure to meet her fiancé during the passing year.
  • If a girl goes to stand at crossroads on midsummer night, she will meet her future husband.
  • A girl goes up to a well on midsummer night, and listens carefully. If she hears a clinking of keys, it means she is to become a mistress of a house. If she hears a crying of a baby, it means she is to have a child.
  • If a girl goes up to a well or a spring naked on midsummer night, she will see the face of her future husband briefly reflected in the water.
  • A girl makes a wreath of fresh flowers and drops it in a flowing stream. If the current carries the wreath away, it means wedding for the girl, but if the wreath is caught somewhere along the way, it means death for her.


Vegetables, fruits and berries

Midsummer opens the season for the arrival of locally grown fresh Finnish vegetables, fruits and berries, sold in abundance at market squares of cities and small towns or in various farm stores.

New potatoes, juicy tomatoes, garden cucumbers, cauliflowers, radishes, crisp new cabbages and lettuce, sweet green peas and carrots, leafy green onions and fresh, fragrant dill are an essential part of Finnish summer. Either eaten fresh, briefly cooked or added to salads and stews, vegetables are served to accompany many summertime meat and fish dishes.

In picture above: the central Market Square in Helsinki.

In picture above: vegetable stalls at the Market Square in Helsinki.

Most Finnish wild berries do not start to ripen until early July, but many cultivated varieties are available already during the spring.

Even though nowadays most fruits and berries are available year round, they cannot be compared with the ones grown and ripened in the long summer days of Finland and other Nordic countries.

Eagerly awaited, these fruits and berries are much more aromatic and flavourful than the ones imported from abroad outside the growing season.

In the late summer and early autumn, Finnish forests and bogs are abundant with juicy and aromatic bilberries, lingonberries, cranberries and cloudberries, just to mention a few varieties.

Finnish berries are eaten fresh, perhaps accompanied by a dash of sugar and milk, cream or ice cream. They are also baked in pies and made into juices, jams and jellies. Fresh strawberry and whipped cream layer cake is a traditional summertime treat in Finland.
Read more about various Finnish berries here.

However, like in most Western countries with no respect for good cuisine, the old tasty varieties of fruits and berries are constantly being replaced with newer ones that withstand handling, transportation, storing and freezing better, but lack all the good old-fashioned flavour.

This is especially true regarding many modern varieties of Finnish strawberries and tomatoes  —  the former are often hard and bland, the latter watery and absolutely tasteless, containing hardly any flesh at all.

Regardless of this fact, most Finns stubbornly insist our brands of overpriced bland tomatoes and raw potato-like strawberries to be "the best in the world". Of course, it is impossible to recognise truly tasty vegetables and berries, if one has never had the chance to taste any, as is true with most Finns, unfortunately :-)

Fresh milk and cheese

In the pre-20th century Finland, cows produced milk in the spring and summer only, and it was a tradition to start preparing cheese and other fresh or fermented dairy products as soon as fresh milk became available. This is why many traditional dairy products were made in midsummer.

In picture on right:"viili"  —  fresh homemade Finnish curd milk.

Various types of fresh cheeses and cheese making recipes were known in different parts of Finland. Besides cheese, fresh milk was also processed into fermented milk, quark, curd milk and longmilk, among other dairy products. Also dishes rich in milk were made  —  milk gruels and porridges, crêpes, pancakes and various pastries.

Fresh cheeses were made, and still are, by curdling milk with buttermilk or rennet. The resulting curds may be enriched with mixing in eggs, cream and various spices and herbs.

The curds are pressed into a block or disk of cheese, which is either eaten fresh or baked in oven or broiled briefly over open fire.

In picture on left: fresh cheese pressed using a traditional cheese mould.

In some regions, it was a custom to prepare one fresh cheese for each young girl and maid of the household. The cheeses were handed out to young men who went from house to house asking for them, and in return brought young, leafy birches which were placed to decorate the doorways.

Cut birches are still often used as decoration in Midsummer, mainly in Finnish summer cottages and other country residences.

In picture on right: strawberries with ice cream is a popular simple summer dessert in the Nordic countries.

Fresh fish is a favourite summer food for Finns. Species abundant at summertime are salmon, rainbow trout, trout, Baltic herring, pike-perch, bream and powan, among others.

Fish is most often eaten fried, barbecued, poached, smoked and freshly salted or used to prepare soups and added to salads. Pickled and marinated herring is always eaten with boiled new potatoes and fresh dill (see the picture on right).

Barbecuing outdoors is a quick and popular cooking method in summertime, especially among Finns residing in their summer cottages.

In picture on right: barbecued salmon.

Besides fish and vegetables, various meats, like pork, beef, lamb and poultry, are barbecued. Cuts of meat, like kassler pork, are usually marinated before barbecuing.

A sure summer favourite is barbecued sausage, eaten with sweet Finnish mustard.

You will find recipes for some of the dishes mentioned above in here.

Copyright © 1997-2013 Nordic Recipe Archive
Any redistribution of this document without the author's permission is forbidden.
You may download a copy of this page for personal use only.

Bacterial Cultures

Cultures for cheese making are called lactic acid bacteria (LAB) because their primary source of energy is the lactose in milk and their primary metabolic product is lactic acid. There is a wide variety of bacterial cultures available that provide distinct flavor and textural characteristics to cheeses. For a more detailed description of cheese cultures and microbiology, see Fox (2004), Kosikowski and Mistry (1997), and Law (1997).

Starter cultures are used early in the cheese making process to assist with coagulation by lowering the pH prior to rennet addition. The metabolism of the starter cultures contribute desirable flavor compounds, and help prevent the growth of spoilage organisms and pathogens. Typical starter bacteria include Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis or cremoris, Streptococcus salivarius subsp. thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbruckii subsp. bulgaricus, and Lactobacillus helveticus.

Adjunct cultures are used to provide or enhance the characteristic flavors and textures of cheese. Common adjunct cultures added during manufacture include Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus plantarum for flavor in Cheddar cheese, or the use of Propionibacterium freudenreichii for eye formation in Swiss. Adjunct cultures can also be used as a smear for washing the outside of the formed cheese, such as the use of Brevibacterium linens of gruyere, brick and limburger cheeses.

Yeasts and molds are used in some cheeses to provide the characteristic colors and flavors of some cheese varieties. Torula yeast is used in the smear for the ripening of brick and limburger cheese. Examples of molds include Penicillium camemberti in camembert and brie, and Penicillium roqueforti in blue cheeses.


[Przhevalsky next describes the lengthy ritualized social etiquette of dickering for the price of a sheep, which the Mongols will never undersell. But even after a price is finally settled upon, the seller will request the animal’s entrails, which Przhevalsky, in consternation, refuses.] “…[B]ut their quality is excellent, especially in the Khalka country, where a full-grown sheep yields from fifty-five to seventy pounds of meat, or even more, the rump fat (kurdiuk) alone weighing from eight to twelve pounds.

“The difficulties in buying milk are also very considerable, and nothing will induce them to sell it in cloudy weather. We were sometimes successful in overcoming the scruples of one of the fair sex by a present of needles or red beads, but in such case she begged us to cover the vessel over when removing it from the yurta, in order that the heavens should not witness the wicked deed. I may add that Mongols keep milk in the dirtiest way imaginable. It frequently happened that one of them would ride up to our tent with a jugful for sale, the lid and spout of the vessel having been smeared with fresh cow dung to prevent the liquid splashing out on the road. Cows’ teats are never washed before milking, nor are the vessels into which the milk is poured.”

1. Khorkhog – The Mongolian Barbeque

What is it: Lamb cooked inside a pot over an open fire with carrots, onions, and potatoes. The specialty of this dish is that during cooking, smooth stones are placed in the container to foster the cooking process.

What does it taste like: The smoky flavor of the meat complements the bland taste of the vegetables.

Mongolian Food Menu (Russian To English)

Don’t expect every restaurant to have an English menu – some may have no menu at all! As dishes in Mongolia do not vary greatly from town to town, we found the below English / Mongolian (Russian) menu really helpful. Often we would show it to a waitress and she would point to what dishes they had available at that restaurant.

While in Mongolia there is no escaping the food… you have to eat sometime right? We found that while not bursting with flavour, much of it was quite edible and even sometimes tasty! You never know, if you don’t try new things how will you ever discover new foodie favourites…

You just really need to like Goat & Mutton!

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