“Smells like Mongolian spirit, man!” This is my favorite line from Nargie’s Mongolian Cuisine‘s tsuivan episode (see link below). I now realize this was most likely a reference to Nirvana’s hit single as Nargie is clearly a big fan, but it is still a profound statement highlighting the status of this beloved comfort food in Mongolia. In honor of Nargie and this favorite dish, today I’m submerging some leftover tsuivan (цуйван) in hot milk tea for breakfast here in Philadelphia. It’s a perfect hot breakfast for these cool mornings.
If you are not familiar with that YouTube show from ArtGer, check it out. It’s a very enjoyable show to watch–the videos are often funny, but they are carefully produced and go to great lengths to respectfully highlight Mongolia’s fascinating food culture(s). Here is the episode I referenced above with my quote. Watch Nargie enjoy his leftovers on a brisk morning in Darkhan at the 13:28 mark:
During my last visit to Darkhan in spring 2019, I had the pleasure of meeting the channel’s (and the show’s) creator Javkhlantugs Ragchaasuren (aka Javkha Ara). Javkha showed me around Darkhan and introduced me to his fledgling studio inside of the Zaluuchuud Theatre. Javkha’s work hints at his background in TV and journalism, and he is slowly gaining acclaim nationally and internationally for his remarkable documentaries. Within social media ArtGer is seriously gaining traction with over 60 million views on YouTube. If you have a serious interest in food culture of North Asia or Mongolia, I recommend checking out the ArtGer channel. They also produce a program called “Views”, which are basically food anthropology videos from around Mongolia.
Back to the theme of today’s post, [Mongolian] milk-tea tsuivan…
Tsuivan (цуйван, ᠴᠤᠶᠢᠪᠢᠩ) is a Mongolian comfort food that I last wrote about in 2015. Since that post, I’ve been back to Mongolia several times and have stumbled across a whole lot more media on the topic. I’ve also eaten a lot more tsuivan! Milk-tea tsuivan (which we could perhaps call сүүтэй цайтай цуйван in Mongolia–it comes up in Google image searches anyway) is not a common item among Mongolia’s many low-brow eateries; my sense is that it is something Mongols might do at home with leftovers for a rich breakfast.
That said, I did find it at one of the Modern Nomads chains in a menu item titled “The Japanese Tourist” (see here for an image of that menu page). The name is supposedly in honor of a Japanese tourist in Mongolia who ate the combination once (perhaps in a home-stay situation) and then struggled to ever find this “dish” again:
The etymology of tsuivan points to a North China food item, 炒饼 chaobing (stir-fried “bing”). For that dish, a thin flatbread is fried on a flat top stove, and then shredded into fine strips and added to a stir-fry meat/vegetable combination. In Mongolia today, a lot of folks prefer to just roll out and cut noodles, and pile them onto the stir fry in process and cover until cooked and chewy. You can see a nice video example of that from Altaa’s Kitchen. Oh, if you are interested, Modern Nomads has an over-the-top version of this classic in a dish they call “the nomad”, where multi-colored “noodle” shreds are steamed under thin slices of meat. That is featured in another Nargie’s Mongolian Cuisine, HERE.
When I cooked this dish previously, I either partially boiled noodles in the stew or steamed and shredded the noodles separately for inclusion. Yesterday I wanted to try that other method for making the “noodles”, replicating how nomadic families dry fry noodle sheets on the flat top of a nomadic stove. It occurred to me that I could simulate a flat top stove and accommodate for a large noodle sheet by heating my Baking Steel on top of my stove. The results were good, though may have been more time consuming and trouble than it was worth. The noodle textures were similar to my previous attempts.
Milk-tea tsuivan Сүүтэй цайтай цуйван ᠰᠦᠨ ᠲᠡᠢ ᠴᠠᠢ ᠲᠠᠢ ᠴᠤᠶᠢᠪᠢᠩ
Hope you enjoy this unique dish!