Mongolian Food Calls My Bluff


Lamb organs

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.

IMG_0782My 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.”

IMG_0797 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.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , | 10 Comments

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10 thoughts on “Mongolian Food Calls My Bluff

  1. I acquired a taste for milk tea in Bhutan. Love your blow-by-blow account of expat life in Mongolia. What do vegetarians do there?

  2. Lesley Hoh

    You have my sympathies. I don’t think I could have those dumplings in milk tea either 😦

  3. That photo at the top is the stuff of nightmares. EEEK!

  4. Kay

    I am totally enjoying your blog posts. You are definitely in the middle of a huge cross-cultural experience. Sending love and regards and looking forward to hearing more and more!

  5. Dayna

    When I lived in Hong Kong, I learned to try all dishes, but NEVER ask what it is. You either like it or you not like it. If you ask what it is beforehand you are doomed. Please say the word if you want me to ship you a case of Mac and Cheese!

  6. sone

    Miss you!! Love this blog you’ve started and am happy to see that you are actually taking photos. Please send any where you adopt cultural attire. Am waiting for those.

  7. Thanks for the comments. I’ll be writing more about the local restaurant scene and, importantly for us, grocery shopping. The thing about mutton/lamb is the smell and taste is so distinctive that I don’t need to ask. But you’re right, Dayna — knowing one of those organs from another isn’t going to help anything!
    I would love to take some photos of people wearing the Mongolian coats: they’re beautiful, especially on the older people, but I’ve been shy about stopping someone to ask. Soon, though.

  8. Frances & Bill

    I know…no wonder she has not posted anything!!!

  9. Крис (Chris)

    nothing better than fresh cream with some currant jam on mongol baked slice of bread…
    in the countryside they’ll spice up tsuvaian or gambir with something like ramps/wild leek but different. I think they call it Ga.
    Anyway, there are lots of little things out there… it’s not all fried meat pancakes…

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