Forgotten by much of the Western world, mutton remains a common component of culinary traditions around the globe. Many people favor its texture and strong taste as much as the more delicate flavor of lamb, and both are among China’s most consumed meats.
Chyxx.com, one of China’s largest industrial information platforms, reported last October that China had become the world’s largest lamb consumer, and that the average citizen consumes more than 3 kilograms of lamb or mutton each year.
In 2014, China produced 4.28 million tons of mutton, accounting for 30 percent of the world’s total production.
Although prevalent in the Chinese market, mutton use varies from region to region. Chinese medicine views mutton as a “hot” food to dispel internal cold. Therefore, the meat is more commonly consumed in the north.
The Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region are the two places that most appreciate mutton. Inner Mongolia’s vast grasslands are ideal for raising sheep, and mutton from the Xilin Gol League and Alxa League are said to be of the finest quality since the animals are raised on chives and natural vegetables.
In Inner Mongolia, mutton is usually boiled with scallions, garlic and ginger. Mongolian people value the fresh taste of boiled mutton and don’t add any sauces or salt when serving.
Xinjiang’s style of is also well-known across China. The most famous sheep come from the Altay region in the far west. The sheep are famous for their large hindquarters and are known as dawei yang, or big butt lambs, in Chinese.
Altay sheep were considered the best quality in ancient China and were often chosen for imperial tribute. An adult Altay sheep usually weighs more than 80 kilograms, and the heaviest ever recorded weighed more than 171 kilograms.
Altay sheep eat natural grass and drink mountain water. Their clean diets make their meat especially tender and tasty.
Like people in Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang people enjoy their mutton. People who live there even eat boiled mutton for breakfast. Influenced by the region’s Uyghur culture, Xinjiang is also famous for lamb kabobs and roasted sheep.
Roasted sheep are a well-known Xinjiang dish. The crispy skin, tender meat and special sauce makes them popular among mutton lovers. The dish is often prepared during festivals and at family gatherings.
The provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu also consume a fair amount of lamb. Shaanxi is famous for its mutton bread soup, yangrou paomo, and Gansu is also famous for its Jinyuan lamb.
Compared to northern China, southern China’s cuisine rarely involves mutton because the mountainous farmland is ill suited to the raising of sheep.