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The Cost of Tsagaan Sar

By Guest Contributor , on 1 March 2016

This guest post is from The Mongolian Observer (No. 2, 27 January 2016), a bi-weekly English language magazine.  Stay tuned for our annual Tsagaan Sar Gift Index, where we look at the current economy through the lens of Tsagaan Sar.

 

Tsagaan Sar, no doubt, is one of the most wonderful traditional festivals of the Mongolians. Everyone with excitement looks forward for the celebration of the Tsagaan Sar but at the same time, especially on the elderly people, the cost of the Tsagaan Sar bears on them quite seriously. The same pressure comes on people with an average earning.

I have a relative, living in an apartment house in the Yaarmag area near the airport. Their names are Enkhtuya and Enkhtör.

They have three grown up sons and 10 grandchildren. And on the day of the Tsagaan Sar more than 120 near and far-away relatives come to pay respect to Enkhtuya and Enkhtör.

In order to be prepared for the numerous guests for the Tsagaan Sar, Enkhtuya and Enkhtör have to buy a whole mutton, different kinds of dairy produce, vegetables, different kinds of drinks including alcoholic and soft drinks, and most important gifts for the visiting guests and children.

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The most important food on the table during the Tsagaan Sar is the boiled meat of a sheep. In Mongolian we have a single common name for it, which is called Uuts (Ууц in Mongolian). The price of an uuts or the entire mutton of an adult sheep, depending on the size, the aimag of origin, and the amount of fat, also varies, the cheapest being around MNT180,000 to MNT250,000. The uuts, in the first photo top right, which was being sold at the Dünjingarav market in Ulaanbaatar as selling at MNT250,000 each and they were from Uvs aimag in the extreme west of the country. Since Enkhtuya and Enkhtör, like many families in the city, live in apartment houses, they must pay someone to boil and cook the mutton for them. Just before Tsagaan Sar ads appear announcing that mutton for the occasion will be cooked – the price MNT35,000.

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Boov offering resized

 

The other important item that mist be placed on the table is a ‘mountain’ of stacked traditional deep-fried cakes called Kheviin Boov. As was mentioned earlier by Prof. Dulam, 5 to 7 stacks of Kheviin Boov must be placed on a plat, decorated on the top with dairy produces such as dried curd, cheese, candies and toffees, dried raisins and nuts, and even white sugar cubes (white is so much respected in Mongolia, symbolizing purity). The price of the cakes, again depending on the quality and make, varies from MNT1,800 to MNT2,500 a piece. Enkhtuya and Enkhtör normally make a plate of 9 stacks, with 5 Kheviin Boovon one stack, meaning they have to buy 45 pieces, and that will total to MNT112,500, plus the cost of dairy produce, sweets and toffees, dried raisins and nuts – bringing the total to well over MNT130,000, that’s for the plate of Kheviin Boov.

Offering plate resized

 

Buuz or traditional Mongolian meat dumplings form the key dish during the Tsagaan Sar and, serving and eating buuz is a must whenever someone visits you or you go visit your relatives and friends. Enkhtuya and Enkhtör make more than 1,200 pieces of buuz. For this they require 20 kilograms of meat (beef or mutton, kg of each costs 7500 and 6500 on an average), 15 kg of flour (1 kg at MNT1400). So they made the 1,200 buuz at a cost of around MNT1750,00.

The buuz is served with green and other salad. A kg of potato on an average is between MNT900 and MNT1,200, onion – MNT1,400, 1 kg of sausage – MNT12,000, one kg of bottle pickled cucumber – MNT4,500, and one piece of egg – MNT 350, and depending on the amount to be prepared, the cost of salad will be determines.

Govi altai dairy resized

 

Guests cannot be bid farewell without a sip of either Mongolian traditional alcoholic drink made of cow milk, or vodka, and of course the fermented mare’s milk called airag – fermented mare’s milk (see top for what Hillary Clinton said about airag). 1 liter of airag costs MNT2,400 and a bottle of vodka, on an average MNT17,000.

The biggest spending by Enkhtuya and Enkhtör are the Tsagaan Sar gifts for their sons and their wives, and grandchildren, and the 120 relatives and guests who will come visit them on this day. These gifts take the chunk of their monthly pension money. As a matter of fact, many pensioners, in anticipation of the Tsagaan Sar taken pension loans from the banks, and after the Tsagaan Sar they would think twice before spending their money.

This is the cost of Tsagaan Sar and it tells quite heavy on the budget of a family like Enkhtuya and Enkhtör, whose sole income is their monthly pension.

 

All Photos © The Mongolian Observer, No. 2 (027), 27 January 2015

 

2 Responses to “The Cost of Tsagaan Sar”

  • 1
    Chris de Gruben wrote on 3 March 2016:

    Thanks for the article.

    It would be interesting to know what the average total cost is (including gifts) and how this relates to monthly income not just for the pensioned couple described above but also a range of families from low to mid to high income.

    It is also my understanding that it is customary for people coming to pay their respects that some money is offered to the elders, by how much would this offset overall costs?

  • 2
    Laurenbonilla wrote on 7 March 2016:

    Chris, Thanks so much for your question and comment. We’re about to post our second annual ‘Tsagaan Sar Index’ where we discuss some of these points in more depth. It seems typical for a lower-income household to spend less than MNT 600,000; middle-income between 600,000-800,000; and high income over one million MNT. If a household has elders or highly-respected individuals, such as a doctor or singer, they often have to spend well over one million to accommodate the large number of guests. Though they might receive a good amount of money in the form of cash gifts given by guests (150,000 or so), it does not seem like it offsets the cost of vodka, wine, and prime cuts of sheep meat, etc. that are purchased in advance of the holiday.

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