Countries Visited

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Map Legend: 28%, 75 of 263 Territories

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Nuttin' but Mutton: Mongolian Food

Mongolia may be huge geographically, but it has the food variation of...well, something without a lot of variation. Food all over the country consists of mutton, mutton, mutton, and camel. And a bit of wheat thrown in for good measure. That will make this a short post, which makes my job easy. That should make us both happy.

At the surprisingly well-stocked store in the town where we got stuck for a day, they had very good Russian-style ice cream that is just in a cone with a piece of paper over it. The best ice cream we had had in many months. And by reading this picture, you can practice your Mongolian--written in Cyrillic and sometimes borrowing a word, it generally doesn't sound a bit like Russian.
This picture includes most of what they eat in Mongolia. The dumplings are called buuz, and are generally filled with a rather strong-tasting mutton. And with a lot more meat than any dumpling that I've ever had. The fried things taste like they look and are filled with mutton. (We also had one filled with vegetables, but our tour guide acted like that was crazy when we told her.) The drink is "tea." Tea or milk tea in Mongolia consists of watered down milk (often from a camel and sometimes a goat if you are in the Gobi), with salt and a tiny hint of tea. We actually didn't think it had any tea at all until we saw people making it and they would throw about a teaspoon of tea leaves into a gallon of the tea.
We did find cheap strawberry nectar and yogurt (made from actual cow's milk). Both were good, but not great. Neither is typical Mongolian food, but Ulaan Bataar has a lot of good supermarkets. We aren't sure who eats all the stuff since we only saw actual Mongolians eating about four things.
And here is the best of the four things that Mongolians eat. These are fresh noodles with mutton, but the mutton brings down the excellent noodles. They taste like Amish-style egg noodles, though I don't think they have egg. Tara liked them so much that she has sworn to start making fresh noodles all the time. I approve.
Our tour guide in the Gobi bought us this grape juice that has chunks of aloe gel in it, sort of like drinking a bubble tea. It was strange at first, but we grew to like have chunks of jelly in our grape juice.
Here we are forced to repeat foods. In this photo, Tara is trying the fried, meat-filled pancakes from a different place. That's all this restaurant served. It is often the case with "restaurants" in the Gobi that they only serve one dish. And they never prepare anything (sometimes including buying the supplies) until you have ordered.
When you're visiting families in a yurt, they will often pass around a bone with some mutton meat. The first time this happen, Tara and I stared quizzically at one another until we saw people cutting off bits to put in their "tea." And sometimes they just pop a bit into their mouths.
This is my mutton in tea. I can't say that I suggest adding mutton to your tea, but it was a novelty.
Also served along with tea are these donut things. They are fried bread items that last longer than actual bread in the harsh desert. They aren't sweet, but they are often served mixed with sugar cubes like this. It makes a better tea time snack than mutton on a bone.
We asked our guide if it was possible to try camel meat. Luckily, we were staying the very next day with a family that makes its living raising camels. They had some dry camel meat that we tried by itself and then added to our soup for the evening. It has a very strong gamey taste. I thought it was edible, but Tara thought it was bad. One-humped camel wins the camel-tasting contest, though.
And in our last picture, Tara poses proudly with her horse meat. She was very disappointed that we couldn't find horse at any restaurants, but then we found some packaged horse at the grocery store. It is pretty good. Not like any meat we've had before, but we would eat it again. Yeehaw!
Eight days in Mongolia, and that's all we ate. Well, we ate more, but it was just the stuff pictured repeatedly. And we had Indian food one night, but that didn't qualify as Mongolian. The food was better than we expected based upon warnings that we had received, but it was just as limited as we had heard.

One last thing. Mongolia now has a couple of Mongolian barbecue buffets, but they American-owned. Sadly, while the concept may be based on how they cooked food in Mongolia hundreds of years ago, the idea now only exists in practice in very expensive American-owned restaurants.

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