Posts Tagged 'food'

thanksgiving in mongolia

Thanksgiving in Mongolia was suprisingly like Thanksgiving in America, though not without considerable effort.  First, there was the matter of the turkey.  Not a common sight here, but the embassy staff receives a special shipment of over 1000 turkeys in mid-November.  This year, unfortunately, they didn’t arrive, due to some ill-timed bad weather.

But, Thanksgiving isn’t the same without the turkey, so a good friend rallied his resources and managed to get his hands on one, raised by a farmer in the far east of the country.   Apparently, this lucky soul only had 10, and the US embassy suggested to him that now would be an opportune time to sell them.  So he did, and $98 later, our 3.4 kilo crowning jewel arrived.

The rest of the ingredients proved easy enough to find, except perhaps sweet potatoes.  Yams were possible, but this year Thanksgiving fell on the same day as Mongolia’s constitutional independence, and as a national holiday, the markets were closed (though some stores remained open).  So no yams either, but potatoes, beans, corn, carrots, bread for stuffing, pumpkin, and all sorts of other goodies were procured in advance.  The night before, we set to cooking, producing pie, ricotta cheesecake, and the foundations of several other dishes besides.

The day of, vegetables were chopped, and the bird soaked in a pot of salt water.   3.4 kilos is nothing spectacular, and the only indication that we had a turkey was its long neck.  When you are used to American butchering of fowl, the sight of the long neck and the cavity on the other side is a bit disconcerting.  After several minutes of grossing ourselves out, we managed to marinate the bird and put it in the oven (where it barely fit – 3.4 kilos was perhaps the perfect size).

Because two of us live in the same building, we managed to move chairs and a table from one apartment to another, so that we were able to squeeze 12 people around one table.  Everything else was prepared, and an extra chicken obtained just in case.

All told, we had the turkey and chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted carrots and leeks, sauteed spinach and mushrooms, savory zucchini ricotta cheesecake, apple-walnut stuffing, sesame green beans, rolls, pumpkin bread, a hearty salad, pumpkin pie, chocolate pecan pie, strawberry cake, ice cream, and even fresh mongolian cream.  And, at the 11th hour, as we lamented for the 10th time that we would have no cranberry sauce, a friend walked in with a bag of hawthorn (or perhaps goji) berries – small, bright red, and most important, tart.  So we boiled them in a sugar syrup, added orange rind and juice, and made the best approximation of cranberry sauce that we could have manged.  Dinner was complete.

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no greater love

I promised a post on food sometime, but I think Michael sums it up quite well in a series of articles in the Atlantic.

There will be a urban foods post sometime soon though, lest you think I actually eat this stuff.

tuck and roll

And then I fell off the horse.

But first, the long weekend (Monday was Children’s Day, a national holiday) started with the most Mongolian food item I’ve ever eaten – banshtei tsai.  Basically, it is suutei tsai (I need a post on foods one of these days) with bansh. It is quite tasty, but difficult to wrap my brain around (much in the same way that red beans and corn as dessert can be a difficult concept).

Dinner that night, however, was thoroughly American. Tex-mex, even.  We had fresh tortillas with white bean chili and havarti, and a super delicious cake from the German bakery (it was Michael’s birthday).

Saturday was a do-nothing day, with pancakes for brunch, a walk around town (during which time, we schooled the Americans on proper etiquette), and then lots of beer and wine on the rooftop.  And, I finally got my apartment cleaned. I also made a trip to the market, and with a glass or two of wine in me, I managed to dredge up my rusty Chinese and chat with the people selling Asian foods (for which, I think, I got a bit of a discount on my sesame oil).

OSF had a children’s day celebration, which greatly resembled an insane children’s birthday party.  15 or so kids, inordinate amounts of food (I had ice cream!) and lots and lots of toys and balloons.  And of course, the kids running around like crazy.

And then Sunday was yet another do-nothing day, with beer on the patio at Ikh Mongol.  It was nice to catch up with some PCVs I’d met before too.  Sunday night, we got ambitious. Friends came over and we managed to make spicy calamari with peppers, scallion pancakes, and mooshoo tofu, and the best of all, seaweed salad with mushrooms and black soybeans. Decadent.

Super yum.  And then Monday, after pizza, we went to the ger camp to ride horses.  I wouldn’t say I’m an expert rider, but I’m not bad.  I have fallen before, and don’t think I would fall again (at least not due to any deficiency of skill).  I am however, not very knowledgeable about equipment, which, ultimately, is the cause of many accidents and injuries in just about any activity.  And just like one wouldn’t fail to check gear when biking or rock climbing, one shouldn’t fail to check gear on a horse.

Of course,  I didn’t.  And to make matters worse, once I realized the girth was loosened, I still continued to ride, saying that I would fix it later.  And of course, as we headed downhill and my horse lowered its neck, I went, saddle and all, over its head.  In my defense, I didn’t fall off.  The saddle did.  And luckily, it was a slow walk, so minimal damage done.

I did, unfortunately, bear the brunt of my weight on the head of my left fibula, leaving us to wonder if it is merely bruised, or potentially fractured. I have opted not to find out, and will go with the bruise.

But never let it be said that I don’t know how to fall.  I ducked my head, brought up my arms, and tucked.  If the rock hadn’t caught my leg, I would have rolled.  No damage to any vital body parts = successful day in Mongolia.

The weekend didn’t end there though – the girls came over that night for our regular girls’ night dinner, and we had yummy salad, pineapple chicken, coconut rice, sweet chili tofu, and lots of wine.  And, of course, yet another cake, this time for Jocelyn’s birthday (picure forthcoming).

And then, as if I hadn’t eaten enough…  we had a real birthday dinner on Tuesday night at UB’s finest dining establishment.  Course after course of salad and pasta and antipasti and meat and fish and then of course the most amazing dessert ever.  Accompanied by copious amounts of wine and the piano.  Fabulous fabulous weekend.

Pictures as always, here.

food and culture

Before coming to Mongolia, I was a vegetarian, though I did eat meat on the rare occaison.   A few months before leaving the US, I reincorporated meat back into my diet, which wasn’t the easiest thing to try.

But I’m glad I did, because meat is pervasive here.  It’s in just about everything, and particularly, in the countryside, forms the backbone of the diet.

Interestingly, though, it’s not the centerpiece of the Mongolian diet, except perhaps during certain times of the year.  But while meat is an essential part of the diet, one thing I have noticed is that it’s not necessarily the largest portion of a meal.

For example, people don’t just eat big chunks of meat.  They don’t eat steaks or hamburgers.  In the winter months, they might eat hunks of hot fat, but this is not a typical daily dish.  Instead, Mongolians eat dumplings, or noodles.  The noodles in particular, tend to contain carrot and potato and maybe even cabbage (or, when I’m lucky, peppers).

In a sense, meat is a fringe food in the urban diet, and at times, in the rural diet as well.  This is, of course, what we see in so much of the rest of the world – the heavy dependence on basic carbs (wheat and rice), and the addition of vegetables and meat as “flavoring”.

Sadly, there isn’t much more to the Mongolian diet than this – meat, flour, milk, and potatoes and carrots.  Of course, with the warmer weather, I can find all sorts of other things (garlic scape and bock choy for example).  But it’s an interesting experience introducing Mongolians to these other items and expanding the diet.  I’ve heard some funny stories from friends about trying to make spaghetti (would have been better without tomato sauce) and lentil soup (smelled bad).   I think if I end up doing a homestay in the countryside, it’ll be an interesting culinary exchange.

too ambitious

I tried to eat pork fat today.  Too much too soon, at least for my brain.  It mulled over in my mind all afternoon, making me feel vaguely sick.  Half a bottle of wine after work made me feel a lot better though.

I will say – it tasted quite good.  I think it was a whole shoulder (or back?) that had been marinated for an hour or so, and then roasted.  The pork was delicious (and I don’t even like pork).  The fat tasted pretty good too, but the consistency was too much for my brain to handle.  I gagged on maybe the 4th piece, and just gave up.

I need to ease into it a bit more… Next time perhaps?