Inviting Happiness: Food Sharing in Post-Communist Mongolia


For Mongols, sharing food is more than just eating meals. Through a process of “opening” and “closing”, on a daily basis or at events, in the family circle or with visitors, sharing food guarantees the proper order of social relations. It also ensures the course of the seasons and the cycle of human life. Through food sharing, humans thus invite happiness to their families and herds. Sandrine Ruhlmann has lived long months, since 2000, in the Mongolian steppe and in the city. She describes and analyzes in detail the contemporary food system and recognizes intertwined ideas and values inherited from shamanism, Buddhism and communist ideology. Through meat-on-the-bone, creamy milk skin, dumplings or sole-shaped cakes, she highlights a whole way of thinking and living.

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Sandrine Ruhlmann is researcher of anthropology at the French National Centre for Scientific Research. She has published many articles in French and English on Mongolian food practices and animal diseases governance in a post-communist context. Inviting Happiness: Food Sharing in Mongolia is the English-language translation of her L’appel du bonheur. Le partage alimentaire mongol, CEMS-EPHE, 2015.
List of Figures
Transcription of Mongolian Terms and Names

 1 Techniques and Material Culture: Details and Design
 2 Food Practices
 3 The Structuring Role of Food Sharing
 4 Food and Political or Religious Authorities

part 1: Ordinary Food Practices: Restricted Sharing

1 The Space
 1 The Steppe
 2 The Encampment
 3 The Yurt
 4 The Stove
 5 Kitchen Utensils

2 The Fundamental Pattern of the Meal
 1 A Three-Meal-a-Day System
 2 (Meat-Based) Soup, the Elementary Dish
 3 Meat, the “Nourishing” Food

3 From Animal to Meat Product
 1 Animal Herding
 2 Slaughtering
 3 Skinning
 4 Butchering: Processing the Meat and Bones
 5 Preserving and Storing
 6 Processing the Blood and the Viscera

4 Basic Culinary Techniques
 1 Cutting Techniques
 2 The Share
 3 The Pieces

5 Cooking Modes
 1 An Aversion to Raw Food
 2 The Essential Boiled Mode of Cooking
 3 The Other Modes of Cooking or Processing

6 Distribution and Consumption of Meals
 1 Offering of the First Part
 2 Presentation, Service and Etiquette
 3 Consuming Shares and Pieces
 4 Sorting and Processing the Leftovers and Waste

7 Food Sharing and Hospitality
 1 Closed/Open Restricted Sharing
 2 The Visitor and the Host: the Rule of Hospitality
 3 The Sequences of Different Visits
 4 The Different Kinds of Visits
 5 Hospitality Dishes, Festive Features
 6 The Alcohols of Hospitality: between Danger and Feast
 7 From Suspicion to Identification of the Visitor
 8 Restricted Sharing and the “Stock of Visitors”
 9 Sharing Happiness

part 2: Extra-Ordinary Food Practices: Extended Sharing

8 Extended Food Sharing
 1 Extending Sharing Thanks to the “Stock of Visitors”
 2 Specializing the Dishes
 3 Inviting and Reinviting Happiness

9 The Human Soul
 1 The Soul and Its Ties to the Body
 2 The Soul’s Establishment in the Body
 3 The Rebirth of the Soul, a Tangle of Shamanic and Buddhist Principles

10 Feast Food Practices—Birth
 1 Isolation of Bodies Polluted by Blood
 2 Protection of the New Mother and Her Baby
 3 The Birth Soup
 4 Opening and Closing the Body and Social Life
 5 White Porridges and Socialization

11 Reverse of Feast Food Practices—Death
 1 Rites of Inversion and Isolation of Bodies Polluted by Death
 2 The Funeral Soup
 3 Merits
 4 Purification Rites
 5 Offerings to the Deceased

12 Extended or Generalized Food Sharing and Maintenance of Social Order
 1 (Meat) Soup or Broth
 2 Soliciting the “Stock of Visitors”
 3 Peace of Mind for the Living and Maintenance of Social Order

13 Renewal: Closing and Opening Foods, Bodies and Social Relations
 1 White Month
 2 Preparing the Food
 3 Cleaning House for the New Year
 4 Closing the Old Year
 5 Opening the New Year
 6 Circulating Happiness

All interested in the anthropology and sociology of alimentation, food sharing and hospitality, techniques, Mongolian culture, and anyone concerned with ritual practices, shamanist and Buddhist conceptions (human soul, happiness, meritorious actions).