For most of my life, I’ve thought of myself as a food person. And over the years, I’ve gotten more and more adventurous, gotten better at cooking, learned more about why people eat what they eat (and been very judgmental too, I must say), all that. But here I’ve reverted to the narrow, picky habits of childhood; Mongolian food has called my bluff.
People who like Mongolian food describe it as meaty, fatty and bland, and from the locavore/anthropological point of view, this is both correct and appropriate. Traditionally, people eat what is easy to obtain, and nomadic people who live with their flocks of sheep/cows/horses/goats in a climate with a short growing season are going to eat a lot of meat and dairy. I get it, I really do. I just can’t eat this way.
My very kind and welcoming colleagues made an office lunch last week of a very traditional, common dish of dumplings in milk tea. The dumplings are small, like har gow with lamb filling, and milk tea — which is drunk everywhere — is tea made with milk, butter and salt. I tried to eat it, but could only manage a little. Of all the meat that I don’t like, lamb and mutton are the worst, because of that smell. It’s really embarrassing.
There are some vegetables included, mostly cooked together as a stew or dressed in mayonnaise and on the side, often with pickles and ham added for an eastern European flavor. Green salads are available at the more upscale, western restaurants — the kind I used to snark about in Malaysia: “Oh, they’re afraid of the local food, only eat at those bad western places.”
This week we had two days of order-in-for-a-meeting office lunches, and I got the dish at right: beef goulash with rice, mashed potato, carrot salad and stewed cabbage. I ate around the goulash, while everyone else had lamb buns — the size of my fist, like bao — and salad of hardboiled egg and ham.
Now that we’re in our own apartment with a kitchen, we can cook dinner at home, and that’s been a relief. Most restaurant food seems bland to me, and the portions are huge, consistent with the local taste. I thought we Americans served the biggest portions, but if I can’t finish a soup and salad, that’s saying something.