Tsaagan Sar, the Lunar New Year celebration in Mongolia, has come to an end. This festivity is marked by family reunions and an abundance of food. Lots of food. The star dish is undoubtedly Mongolian dumplings, what they call buuz (pronounced bodz). Mongolians have spent 3 days in a row visiting several family members and eating plenty of buuz. This means that on the previous days before the celebration, families gather to prepare hundreds and hundreds of these little tiny flour pouches. And believe me, this is no easy task.
This is what I have learned about it:
Families will gather 2 or 3 times and prepare large batches of buuz, around 1000 pieces per day.
This number of dumplings is what one family unit, typically the elders, will serve in their houses to the guests that will arrive in a period of 3 days.
Younger families will have less visitors and therefore will not have to prepare such large quantities of food.
The preparation starts in the evening so that the weather is cold enough to freeze the buuz, typically outdoors.
The most effective way to prepare buuz is to do chain work, every person performs one part of the process.
Steps to make buuz
It is important to start the foundation of this dish appropriately. The consistency needs to be just right in order to provide easy kneading and keep the shape of the buuz after being steamed. If your dough is not right, you will end up with poor quality buuz and be the embarrassment of the family.
Mutton is typically used because it’s the cheapest meat, but some people use beef. The mincing is done by the families. Add sheep tail fat and a generous amount of onion, salt, and in some instances, dill seed. It is important to keep the right moisture in this mixture in order not to end up with a sad, dry buuz.
Once the dough and the meat filling have been prepared, the process can be divided into 4 jobs, each of them very precise:
Form long sticks of dough. Make sure that they are smooth and have no folded areas.
Cut those sticks into smaller pieces, approximately the same size so that all buuz look alike.
Make disks out of each piece of dough. Roll the dough from the outside in, to get a perfect circle. The dough should be uniform and have the same thickness everywhere, but be slightly thicker in the middle.
Fill in each disk with a small scoop of meat and graciously close the aperture to create a flower shaped buuz. This step is significantly more complicated than the others and it requires a lot of practice to make the perfect shape. (And doing so relatively fast.)
The less skilled family members will be assigned easier, but no less tedious, tasks like chopping onions, mincing meat or moving buuz trays.
What happens afterwards:
The buuz will immediately be frozen raw and will be cooked during Tsaagan Sar days.
When it’s time to serve them, they only need to be placed in the steamer for 24 minutes. No thawing needed.
It is very important not to remove the lid (I don’t know why) while they are being steamed.
Crappy looking buuz will absolutely not be served during Tsaagan Sar. So they will make a great snack during the long night.