Friday, September 21, 2012

Mongolia - The Food

Let me just say that if you visit the Steppe Nomad Camp, the food there is exceptional. But if you want a real Mongolian food experience, you have to leave the camp. And this experience way by far the best part of the whole trip. Dundok took me to his ger where we stopped to have lunch. There I also met Trudi from Germany (who has been visiting Mongolia on and off for five years) and Gunbaatar who was visiting from Western Mongolia where he has been reintroducing the wild horse to the Gobi desert. Dundok had prepared a sheep for our arrival and his wife brought out freshly made bread prepared in a wood stove. Needless to say it was quite filling.

Later that day we visited a shepard's ger. As is the usual custom, tea was offered immediately as was aaruul. Aaruul is curdled milk dehydrated and thoroughly dried in the air and sun. The remarkable thing is that it has an almost unlimited shelf life...much like our dehydrated foods here which can last anywhere from 25-30 years. Unfortunately, I think aaruul is an acquired taste. One nibble was all I was able to get through.

The next day, Dundok invited me to his parents ger in a neighboring town. Communication was limited to a lot of smiles and thanking them for the generous portions of food and drink per the usual custom. Dundok's mother prepared Tsuivan, a stew made from fresh mutton (which Dundok had provided), potatoes, carrots and freshly made noodles. All of it was prepared in a large caste iron pot placed on top of the wood stove that sat outside the ger. We all ate outside on benches surrounding the wood stove. The food was wonderful and filling but its nearly impossible to convince your hosts that you are full. Seconds will always be offered well before you've polished off the first bowl.

Due to the nomadic lifestyle and harsh weather conditions, you will find that Mongolians are exceptional with their hospitality as it has been the custom since the times of Ghengis Khan. Mongolians relied on that hospitality to get through the vast plains and huge expanses of land in the Gobi desert. That hospitality is a wonderful thing to experience!

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