Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Englishman, An Irishman and A Mongolian

Mongolia, Ulaanbataqr

"Men have looked upon the desert as barren land, the free holding of whoever chose; but in fact each hill and valley in it had a man who was its acknowledged owner. The desert was held in a crazed communism by which nature and the elements were for the free use of every known friendly person for his own purpose and no more." 

T.E Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

There is nothing I enjoy more than being stared at, pointed at, and having pictures taken of me. Luckily in Mongolia there was plenty of this. When we arrived in Mongolia we arrived like Kings, we had 100,000 togrogs in our wallets and felt like world was our oyster. Sadly though Ulaanbataar (or UB to those trendy travellers out their) was unable to cater for the culinary journey that we were looking for. I had wagered before we arrived that there would be no Western influences in UB, and that we would finally be free of the global westernisation that we had left behind in Russia. I had a hefty sum of 5,000 togrogs* on this wager and was confident of a huge windfall. As we entered into the centre of UB we were greeted by Sukhbataar Square an oriental feast with glistening marble pillars and domineering statues. Directly opposite the square was an Irish Pub.

It was decided that if we wanted to see the real Mongolian cuisine we may have to go a little further afield.

After travelling to the outskirts of the city and integrating with the locals; oddly enough I found a home from home in Mongolian cooking. It had a lot of similarities to the traditional British style of cooking of meat and two vegetables. It was very carbohydrate heavy food but was finished in such a way that the density of the food was not overpowering. Meat was minimal in Mongolian dishes but it was not sorely missed. The variety of spices and texture was enough to tempt even the most devoted carnivore. Their simple way of cooking put new mod con kitchens to shame. A simple wood fire was more than enough for them to cook up some luxurious culinary treats.

Our curiosity had taken us to a small tribal village on the outskirts of the capital. We encouraged others to partake in our diplomatic mission and managed to rope in a motley crew of transatlantic ambassadors. Our group contained a pair of southern Chinamen, a bunch of very excitable Koreans, a Slovenian and two Americans who spent the whole time informing us about the National Museum of Mongolian History. It was not Genghis Khan's armour or the ancient dinosaur fossil held with that had titillated them. Rather they had become fixated on a Mongolian Barbie doll outfit they had found in the museums gift shop that came complete with hat and boots and how disappointed they were that they had no younger siblings to present this gift. We debated whether this would be an appropriate gift for our hosts but decided that they were probably very familiar with Mongolian Barbie attire and that they would more readily appreciate tobacco. Our hosts were very amiable and showed us to our accommodation. Sadly Mongolian Yurts don't cater for the western man and so a 5ft high house didn't really cater for our 6ft bodies. Nevertheless, the hosts were extremely hospitable and entertained with horse riding in the day and singing at night. It was at night that we presented our 
second gift of homemade vodka we had previously picked up in Russia. We presented everyone with a shot and drank to new friendships. Sadly our guests and some of our fellow ambassadors were unaccustomed to a more beer hardy western livers and were soon in a rather too jubilant state. Within the hour, two of our hosts ran off into the night trying to chase off an imposing looking bunny and our two chinamen were laying on the floor looking rather green around the gills. In the morning our hosts were no where to be seen but we deemed our diplomatic mission a success and boarded our next train that would take us further south. We had successfully managed to leave a British mark(s) on the Mongolian countryside.

* Pounds to Mongolian Tugrok rate was 
1 GBP = 2,000 Togrogs

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