Mongolia: Digging the cuisine

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Ger camp host Nikwa demonstrates a proper Mongolian barbecue of stone-roasted goat at the camp in the Terelj National Park two hours east of Ulaanbataar. (Photos by N. Scott Trimble)
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Barbecued mutton this time, with loads of potatoes and carrots and noodles. (Photos by N. Scott Trimble)

So you think you’ve eaten Mongolian food, eh? Been to a Mongolian BBQ down near the strip mall? I hate to break it to you, but you haven’t eaten Mongolian.

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Our amazing chefs Berengul, Maka and Gangul make buunz, a steamed dumpling, by the shore of the Tavan Bogd river. (Photos by N. Scott Trimble)

MOOTM_2015_NST_5689It isn’t beef slathered in sweet sauces, that’s for sure. A hefty amount of what we ate consisted mainly of goat. It isn’t far-fetched either to harken back to ‘ol Bubba from Forrest Gump either and rattle off a list of a string of recipes for cooking shrimp, only instead of shrimp, you just put in goat. Grilled goat, stewed goat, boiled goat, boiled in oil goat, Goat dumplings, goat bunnz

MOOTM_2015_NST_6639 ( a steamed dumpling)

Khuushuur (sort of like a ground meat fried empanada) and even Mongolian Barbecue goat–where they skin  the goat and pull out the bones, meat, innards and such, break it down, and stuff it all back into the skin with rocks heated with a fire and sew it back up with root vegetables so the rocks cook everything from the inside. Its a taste…that needs to be acquired…

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Yaks in Sagog. (Photos by N. Scott Trimble)

Besides goat, there is also lots of yak and sheep, sometimes a horse, and the same variations in which to eat them. Oil used to cook also usually comes from the hoofed critters too. So everything pretty much tastes like meat.MOOTM_2015_NST_7480

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Rustic Pathways students clear out weeds for the potato crop to grow in the very fragile soil in Sagog.

Veggies are hard to come by, and usually left to feeding the animals. But especially in dumplings, you can have some shredded carrot and potato inside. On our trip, when we had the opportunity to enjoy some canned beets, that was a happy day. Canned fruit too was as precious as a creme brûlée´ in the Steppe. In villages like Sagog, crop development is growing in order to feed the children a more balanced diet. Non Government Organization programs like the Source of Steppe Nomads helps these villages achieve their goals in seeing those nutritional needs are met raising money and support to grow these modest farming projects into larger ones.

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Yours truly filling a bucket milking a goat. Okay, I didn’t fill it, but I did fill a bucket list item. Sigh…that isn’t true either…

Making soft cheese. The dairy gets poured into this canvas bag where it is churned for three hours, usually the children take turns at this.

Dairy also makes up a lot of the Mongolian diet. Goat milk, yak milk, camel milk, and horse milk.MOOTM_2015_NST_8258

It is more readily available than water. Seriously. So you have to learn to incorporate it quickly. Milk tea is a staple, and you can expect it from morning to night, and it grows on you. I actually miss it now!

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Taking a sip of fermented camel milk.

Did you know you can even make vodka out of milk? Yes you can! Yes I drank it! Aaaaannnnddd….it was okay. While it didn’t taste like I pictured it taste, it wasn’t Grey Goose either. But I imagine it does the job on cold nights. Fermented mare’s milk is a thing too.

Finished product is a kind of ricotta-like goat cheese.

Like cheese?_D3_8745MOOTM_2015_NST_8078 MOOTM_2015_NST_8469MOOTM_2015_NST_8472

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No, this isn’t lunch, this is just the sweets and cheese loaded appetizer BEFORE lunch! Nothing beats Mongolian hospitality!
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Tony was a fan of the Mongolian barbecue!

Cheese from super hard MOOTM_2015_NST_8085(seriously, its like eating a rock) to ricotta-like is prevalent and ready, especially at tea time. The southern boy in me got addicted to the biscuits they had at tea. A dough cooked in yak oil. Yum! And somehow, I still managed to lose weight on my trip.

Ironically, when in Ulaanbataar, we did have opportunities for non-Mongolian food too that was surprisingly very good. So much some in some cases, I liked it better than back home! Mongolians like their sweets, and Cafe Bene´, a Starbuck’s-like coffee house, had really good pastries. Better than any other coffee house I can find around Seattle. A diner we frequented several times had good old fashioned American breakfast, and burgers when you really needed them! IMG_4249

All in all, a lot of our eating choices were limited, but I was okay with that. Heck, I wasn’t trying to cook, and I usually cook every meal! Despite the fact it was lots of meat, lots of dairy, lots of dumplings and lots of milk tea, I never felt better after a meal, and being free of the maniacal grasp of fillers, flavorings, and additives was a welcome respite. I was sad to come back to the states and rediscover again how hard it is to find something natural to eat. Hell, I am already tired of pasteurized milk! Bring me the raw stuff!

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3 thoughts on “Mongolia: Digging the cuisine

  1. That was good, interesting, and well written. Thanks for sending it.

    In the photo below the one of you sipping fermented goat milk, the woman in it looks like Sally Bennet!!

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