Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Mongolian BBQ!

Below is an excerpt from the webpage of a US-based restaurant.
Centuries ago in the province of Mongolia, the Mighty Khan's hunting parties would camp on the banks of the great river Khan-Balik. After days devoted entirely to hunting, they would gather in droves to celebrate their successes. Communing in banquet style pavilions, the Mongols would prepare slivers of meat and vegetables by slicing them with their razor sharp swords. They would then cook their food by searing it on their overturned shields that were heated by a blazing fire. The Kublai Khan and his fiercest warriors would sit high above the hordes, and enjoy the same food prepared for him on a large, roaring hot griddle.
It's a great marketing ploy to create novelty around a random Western buffet. We don't have a Mongolian BBQ in Mongolia, no such thing. Or rather, we didn't use to, until recently. Tourists came and probably went around looking for that authentic Mongolian BBQ they enjoyed so much in Wisconsin or Paris somewhere. So some businessmen saw the opportunity, and gave the tourists what they wanted. They want a Mongolian BBQ restaurant, and a micro-brewery, just like they have it in their home country. And why can't the waiter speak English, after all he's Mongolian isn't he. Coz the Wisconsin Mongolian BBQ waiter spoke absolutely fluent English. He looked a bit white too, but hey, Mongolians adapt really well to different cultures.

That random rant aside, we do have something that could be called an authentic Mongolian BBQ, but it doesn't involve shields, swords, buffet table with an awesome spread. It involves a metal container, potatoes and other herbs such as they may be available (when I say herbs, in Mongolian dishes, no more than 2-3 types are used), and a sheep. An entire sheep. Brought to the cooking depot, alive. One of the men, usually the one who knows how to slaughter the sheep, would then make a small incision and shove his hand into the sheep insides. Until he can reach the main artery, so you can imagine his arm would go in past the elbow. He then would either severe or simply hold the main artery until the sheep breathes its last. Gruesome, eh? But that's reality. You can't say "I like mutton and I eat it but I don't wanna have to kill sheep to get it". It's a method passed down centuries, and I could say that it's probably more humane than slitting their throats while they're dangling from a hook and leaving them to bleed.

In any case, nothing is wasted from the animal, everything is sausaged, meat's carefully prepared and in it all goes into a metal container, which is placed over fire for a couple of hours. Now THAT is Mongolian BBQ. Hardly appetizing for foreigners, as the meat proves too strong in flavour and richness for them. And most usually lose their appetite watching the sheep-slaughtering. So I can understand the romantic appeal of warriors sitting around frying meat on their shields, as ludicrous as it may sound.

On a side note to the above quote, Khan-Balik is not a great river. It's the ancient Mongol name for today's Beijing, the city.