When I was studying in Australia, an American teacher asked us what we usually did in the evening in our countries. I said Mongolians drink yogurt before sleep. The teacher was surprised at my answer: “Your country’s people drink yogurt? In my country we eat yogurt.” In the Mongolian language we say “drinking” yogurt. So when I eat yogurt now, I always remember the American teacher’s question.
Using yogurt is beneficial in daily life in Mongolia not only because it is a dairy product, but also because it helps protect the throat from illnesses. How? We lick leftover yogurt until the bowl is clean, which is actually an excellent throat exercise. Some people think Mongolians lick the bowl after eating yogurt in order to clean the bowl, making it easier to wash. This might be another advantage to the practice! But years ago, before imported vegetables, rice, and flour were available, Mongolians ate only meat and dairy products. We did not have many other options for food. However, various types of dairy products have been produced from milk in Mongolia for thousands of years. Yogurt was the best of these options to eat after dinner, and it remains a tradition to eat it every evening. Older people still do not like it if there is little bit of leftover yogurt. So we lick the bowl the best we can. It is a fun family activity, especially for kids.
Ulanbator is one of the coldest capital cities in the world. In some area of Mongolia it might reach minus 60 degrees Celsius in winter. The traditional habit of eating yogurt can keep a throat healthy in freezing cold temperatures. But how does licking the bowl help the throat? It strengthens the muscles of the throat in the same way that some yoga exercises do, such as the lion pose. It stimulates the platysma, which is a thin, rectangular-shaped muscle in the front of throat. So if a person does not do yoga, licking the bowl is another way to keep the throat healthy. This traditional habit of the Mongolian people may be useful for others as well.
MARGAD ZORIGT is a mother and freelance journalist in Mongolia.