Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Mongolian Governor's Barbecue: A Heart Stopping Moment!

 The lamb had disappeared! That beautiful brown and white lamb we had just been petting and feeding by  hand when we arrived up at the green grassy glade under cotton wool trees beside the Orkhon river, near  Khar Khorin, Mongolia.

 We have Mongolian barbecues back home, but this we were told was to be a special event; a not too dressy reception where the District Governor of Arkhangai Province would welcome we 25 members of Friendship Force ambassadors from New Zealand.

Mongolian nomadic gers or yurts.

 A vast country, Mongolia offers unforgettable experiences of ger stays at Tourist camps, or better still with nomadic families living as close to nature as any society could. These most hospitable people with the largest smiles, and the whitest teeth, will welcome any traveller by sharing their simple fare, mainly meat, fat, and milk products, and local drink specialities. Vegetarians- bring your own or starve!

Smiles glowing with gleaming teeth.

 After 5 days being hosted by Amara and Zundui, (our Mongolian host family) Mongolian drinks and I were getting to like each other. Especially their tea; refreshing with its salty taste, the weak 50/50 tea and milk concoction did go down well, surprisingly. No, you don't ask for the sugar bowl...they add salt! Just think of it as promoting a thirst for the airag that will be liberally handed around later.
 Airag is fermented mare's milk. It will grab you with it's slightly acidic taste. Heated up in a big steel cooking bowl, gently stirred then left to sit.  When there's no beer to be had, this becomes the next best drink to get the conviviality flowing. Satiation comes with deep belly laughs from all around, generally at our dumb attempts to mimic their throatsinging. And Mongolians loved distilled spirits. Try their araka which is distilled airag, and you could swear you were drinking vodka...which tops the pops with Mongolians.

"Well, we drunk all the vodka and brandy, what next?"
 As at all barbecues, naturally the men get all the meat prepared and down a few drinks. The vodka was being passed around, each guy swigging from the bottle and passing it on. I managed to gesture my empty glass towards them and was invited into the camaraderie. When that was finished I pulled out my surprise for them- a bottle of Brandy. That soon disappeared. This was a new sensation for all the Mongolian men! They loved it, and I guess they thought I was an OK sort of guy.

Mongolian dried cheese tasties. Airag in the glasses.
Snacks of dried cheese were passed around... teeth-breaking stuff. I soon learned to avoid the palest coloured segments- that variety disproves the saying- " As different as chalk and cheese." I  swear I could use it to write an essay on any blackboard. The others were very tasty. Families milk 5 kinds of animals- mares, cows, yaks, sheep and goats. Camels may also be milked in southern desert areas where cattle would not survive. During the summer months excess milk is turned into cheese, then sliced and laid out in the sun to dry, or strung like large flat beads on a washing line, just like your smalls.

A heart stopping moment.
 Our lamb re-appeared, all nicely cut up, and laid out on its skin laying on the grass. The killing process had taken place behind our small bus. The lamb held, back down on the ground with each leg stretched out, a small incision made just below the sternum, a hand goes in, finds the heart and stops it by squeezing. Done well it is rather quick, very clean, and hopefully little pain for the animal. This traditional method for killing sheep or goats ensures all the blood can be collected and made into delicious blood sausages or mixed with milk. Hopefully that was not on our menu.

Our hosts prepare dessert.
The smell of roasting meat and a few vegetables filled the air. Soon our meal was ready. Slices of roasted and dripping fat were passed around, declined by all we Kiwis, but eaten with gusto by our hosts. Our lamb friend tasted good, albeit a little chewy... but then it hadn't been aged at all. Potatoes baked in the embers amongst the hot rocks and fresh tomatoes and cucumber, the only vegetables we were to see for 10 days in Mongolia filled our plates. Watermelon and oranges for fresh dessert.

The official bit was over quickly with a welcome speech by the District Governor, a response by our group leader, then most of us promptly snoozed off in the shade under the trees. Kay and I wandered off to explore along the riverbank.

Our host translates the District Governor's welcome.

I hope attitudes to rubbish change in Mongolia quickly. The saddening thing about our wonderful afternoon in the sun beside the peaceful, picturesque Orkhon river was everyone of the 25 New Zealand guests cleaned up all the trash- the paper plates, serviettes and tissues, the fruit and vegetable peelings, all the bottles etc and filled 2 paper trash bags, placing them on the bus, expecting them to be taken to a trash dump.
As we drove off, they were last seen lying in our picnic area.
"Oh no. We just leave there." we were told.
"It's OK.Not much rubbish anywhere."

Fluff from the cottonwool trees carpets the grass. How long will such a welcoming clean glade remain so?



Elizabeth Young said...

Extremely interesting Jim! Enjoyed this post.

Carolina HeartStrings said...

How do you get to travel to so many exotic locations? WOW. We have a lot of "foodies" following us so feel free to post a link on our fb page: Carolina HeartStrings and love your blog!

Unknown said...

Interesting post Jim. I enjoyed it!

Mari Sterling Wilbur said...

Now this was truly a travel adventure!! What a difference in the culinary tastes!

Calogero said...

Very very nice photos :-).

crazy eater said...

Such a nice scenery perfect for vacation purposes.