Here now and now here or nowhere

The title of this blog comes from a play on words that "now here" is also the same letters as "nowhere" just with a space added in the middle. I am always trying to get better at being in the here and now, and I've always been a bit of a joker so that is why I chose this name.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What's that your eating?

While I deal with internet issues with the great firewall of china, I may have issues with posting pictures and stories to the blog.  So here's something I wrote for my friend (and former trek leader) Aaron's blog.

One of the fun parts of travel is getting to try new or just different spins on culinary delights. I'm heading to China shortly and I've heard of all the crazy things you can eat there, and this excites me greatly. However, don't overlook Mongolia as a place where food is exciting. Most of my ex-pat friends here are sick of the food as it's predominately mutton based foods, but you can still get creative or exciting within this realm of food.

Yesterday I went out to lunch with a friend of a friend who is Mongolian. I wanted to have some traditional Mongolian dishes. Don't get me wrong, I love buuz (mutton dumplings) and Khuushuur (deep fried mutton patties) but surely there has to be more to Mongolian cooking than this, right? Well there is.

Bayarmaa is eating a mixed organ dish containing stomach, liver, tripe, kidney, and heart. There were a few vegetables mixed in as well, which seemed highly unmongolian. I ordered the fried liver and onions with sheeps tail. Honestly, I ordered this partly in honor of my mother and grandmother. As a child my mom and bubbie would make liver and onions and the house would reek of this horrible smell. I hated that smell, and the taste was worse. I remember coming in one night from playing with a friend and my mom was making liver and onions. I walked in the door, got a whiff and immediately felt sick.  But I've grown up so much since those days. And now I somewhat like the taste of liver, at least in moderation.  The addition of sheeps tail is to add the fattyness to it.  In other countries bacon is commonly added to this dish, but pig is not very common to Mongolia, while sheep are plentiful.  The dish was quite tasty, but again in moderation.  Halfway through, i hit a point of not wanting to eat anymore liver. But being a good eater, I did finish the plate.  Bayarmaa kept offering her food up to me, so how could I refuse. Organs are something that have really grown on me in the last few years.  I can't always taste the difference between stomach, tripe or other innards as to me they all have a similar taste but the tecture and shape/color allow me to distinguish which is which. But really, why does it matter what organ your eating when you're cramming your face down with sweet, sweet, sweetbreads.  If you haven't tried eating organ dishes, I would start slowly. heart and liver are a bit stronger tasting so try stomach or tripe first. Make sure they are cooked properly, as sometimes tripe can be to chewy and personally, I'm not a fan of this. But be adventurous with your food, don't just stick to meat and potatoes (or tofu and potatoes for the vegetarians reading this).

Speaking of being adventurous in eating, and of eating organs...

Last night we had a little going away party for me with some of the friends I've really grown to know in UB. I hadn't had Mongolian hotpot yet so I asked to try that. It seemed liked a fun group thing. Well, Mongolian hotpot is different than the other shabu shabu's I know. The main difference is that everyone gets there own small pot with the soup choice they like, versus one big communal bowl. My party mates were somewhat tame on the ordering, and got basic meat and veggies. The word in Mongolia is on the whole don't order chicken as there aren't any in the country so you know it isn't fresh. When I saw they had the other type of cock on the menu, I knew I had to try it. I've had rocky mountain oysters (aka calf fries aka cow balls) before, but not the bull penis. Ok, make your juvenile penis jokes here... Done? ok, lets go forward then. Cow balls are very organ-like tasting so I expected the same for the penis. It came out looking not at all like the penis I know (and am very familiar with) in fact it looked almost like calimari. Because of this we all thought it would be chewy. However, after cooking for the right amount of time the penis wasn't chewy at all, rather soft and almost melting like. The taste was very bland, but when mixed with the sesame dipping sauce it became a bit more enjoyable.  Not sure if I'd ever order it again, but I wouldn't be adverse to this though. At least I now know, and that's half the battle (though a battle against what?)

My friend Alicia holding up the uncooked horse penis, and the center plate in front of all that yummy cock.

The western side of mongolia is filled mostly with Kazakh people. Kazakh and Mongols have very different cultures and customs. One dish that is common out west but not so much in the east is horse.  Horse is not that uncommon in a lot of the world and I think I may have even had it before (I once ordered food in Prague that may have been horse but I couldn't read the menu so wasn't positive).  So while not as exciting as organs, horse is still somewhat of a different dish for Americans.  I think I'd rather eat mutton or beef if given the option, but horse isn't bad. It's a little gamey and a bit more chewy but it does have some nice flavor. I think the biggest benefit is how much there is of it, as horses are big animals.

Of the few dishes we had with horse, this was my favorite. It's a curried horse and vegetable dish over rice. I really enjoyed this, mostly because of the curry flavoring, and could see myself eating this dish frequently. The garlic and horse soup, not so much.

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