Sunday, 23 January 2011

Coming soon.....Year of the Iron Rabbit

Soon it will be Tsagaan Sar  ("White Moon"),  the new year festival according to the Mongolian lunar calendar, which is based on a 12 year animal cycle. It marks the beginning of spring, so the worst of the winter must be over. All the ladies are busy preparing thousands of buuz,  steamed dumplings filled with mutton, and shopping for drinks and gifts to present to the expected visitors. Since it is the tradition to visit all your older relatives, it follows that the elders will get more visitors and therefore have to prepare the most buuz. Fortunately outside is minus 30 degrees Celcius, or thereabouts, so all the pre-prepared dumplings can be kept safely frozen outside  (on the balcony in the case of high rise city dwellers).


Mongolian new year sometimes falls on the same day as the Chinese new year, but some years it is one month later. Tsagaan Sar is celebrated for three days on the new moon that occurs two months after the winter solstice. In 2011 this will be 3rd to 5th February. It is at the same time as the Tibetan "Losar" and to avoid confusion as to the exact dates, the Government of Mongolia with guidance from the Buddhist Lamas at Gandantegchenling monastery have defined the dates of Tsagaan Sar up to the year 2106.

It is traditional for Mongolians to put out some ice on the eve before Tsagaan Sar. This is for the thirsty horse of Palden Lhamo, the female protective Buddhist deity who visits every household before the new year.  If she finds happiness and plenty in a home then the year ahead will be good for that family. The story of Palden Lhamo is an interesting one; she is said to have married "Evil"  and gave birth to the "Son of Evil" who was intent on destroying Buddhism. She ate her son and fled. Whilst escaping on horseback with the skin of her son draped on the horse's back, someone fired an arrow into the rump of her horse. On all statues of Palden Lhamo, her horse has the mark of an eye on its rump where it was shot.


Recipe For Buutz

Mince up a large quantity of mutton and mix with salt, onion and herbs. To make the dough use flour and water and knead it well together. Roll it into a sausage shape and cut off slices. Roll the slices into thin circles approximately 10cm diameter and put some of the mince meat in the middle. Pinch up the edges securely and  put them outside to freeze until required. Just before you are ready to eat the buuz, prepare the steaming pans. The dumplings have to be steamed for about 20 - 30 minutes. The steam has to be flapped away very energetically, otherwise the pastry bit will be soggy. When serving, give an ODD number of buutz to each person. Odd numbers are auspicious. Even numbers are inauspicious.

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