Katieholder’s Blog

Tsaagaan Sar and Ice Fest preparations

So, right now, everyone in Mongolia is gearing up for the “Tsaagaan Sar” or “White Month” celebrations.  This is a 3 day holiday that celebrates the Mongolian New Year. During the 3 days, people visit their friends and family all over the country. If you don’t travel anywhere, you are expected to host people in your home. It’s a huge deal with a lot of customs/traditions and I’ll explain a few here.

Because of the time of year, and limited availability of certain foods, Tsaagaan Sar foods are traditionally “white foods”.  This means there is a large amount of arroll (dried cheese curds with different tastes, textures, etc), airag (fermented mare’s milk), sweet bread (used to make the bread towers—more explanation to follow), and buuz (steamed dough folded around lamb, horse or beef meat). There’s also a large amount of “salads” (potato, egg, cucumber) and these salads are made “white” with a ton of mayo.

This weekend, my co-workers asked me if I had started preparing for Tsaagaan Sar, and I said that I didn’t know I needed to. “Of course you do!” they said. “We will all come over to eat and drink with you to celebrate your first year in Mongolia.” This is the point that I began freak out stage 1.

So, after getting semi-calm again, I found out what I needed to prepare (see all of the above). I asked how many buuz I would need. “Usually at least 200. Yes, I think you can be prepared with 200.” WHAT?!! It literally takes me 5 minutes to shape 1 buuz. And they are NOT pretty. My host mom would call my buuz “Katie buuz”. Easily identifiable because the sides didn’t always stick together and meat would be coming out.

Because I was obviously behind on planning, I took yesterday afternoon off in order to do some shopping and get some of the salads ready. Here’s what I bought: 5 kilos of potatoes (11 lbs), big box of mayo, cherry tomatoes, 1 kilo cucumbers, 1 large bunch of green onions, purple onions, carrots, garlic, feta cheese (2 boxes), 3 cans green and black olives, 2 bags of pasta, 14 eggs, 1 bag of arroll, 6 ovals of sweet bread (for the bread tower), 3 bread medallions (bread tower), 3 bags of candy, 6 bell peppers, olive oil and a wooden base for the bread tower.

After shopping, I started to make a few of the salads. I made a non-mayo pasta salad with the olives, cherry tomatoes, garlic, green onions, feta cheese, olive oil and vinegar. Next, came the egg salad (a mayo salad), with cucumber, mustard and dill. Then the cucumber and tomato salad with mayo. I decided to make the potato salad later since I was exhausted and couldn’t face scrubbing 11 lbs of potatoes (did you know that potatoes don’t come out of the ground clean, but with a ton of dirt stuck all over? True.)

As for the 200 buuz? I’m buying them frozen and steaming them as I need them. Sorry I’m not “jinkin” (real), but I don’t have the time/energy/patience/space to do 200 buuz. I’m hoping that my guests will be happy with my salad making abilities and won’t judge me too harshly for cutting corners on the buuz.

Now, all I really have to focus on (besides scrubbing the potatoes) is cleaning my apartment. Mongolians are big (BIG) on keeping their homes spotless and they judge people on their homes’ cleanliness. Now, I’m not known for my neatness, but I keep the apartment at an ok level. Now, though, it’s time to get all the nooks, crannies and edges of the place clean.

After Tsaagaan Sar it’s vacation time for me and I’m going to Ice Fest in Lake Khovsgol. It’s west and to the north of Erdenet and I’ll be going with 4 other PCV’s and staying in a ger with 2 of them. Right now, we’ve got the ger reserved (thanks Brad) and I’m working on arranging a Land Rover taxi. Why a land rover taxi? First, it’s a 20 hour drive and there are 5 of us so we want to be comfortable. Second, the LR has four wheel drive and that’s always a plus here.

I’ve asked my co-workers to find out where we can get a “jeep” and I’ll see what I find out. That’s how you arrange travel here. You ask your co-workers and taxi drivers to find what you need and somehow it happens. Just put the word out there and see what comes back.

I’ll try to get an update up for you guys after Tsaagaan Sar with some pictures.   Here is a link for more information about Tsagaan Sar:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsagaan_Sar

As always, enjoy your amenities!


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