Let’s talk about Mongolian food. Usually when we Americans think of Mongolian food, we think of “Mongolian Barbecue”, recently popularized by several chains back in the States. How this name came about I’m not sure, as it’s neither Mongolian nor barbecue. For the uninitiated, M.B. is basically Chinese stir fry served in a Mongolian theme restaurant. It’s the Asian equivalent of “Outback Steakhouse”...a delicious fraud:
As another analogy, imagine going into your local Mexican joint and being served Kung Pao Chicken. That’s Mongolian Barbecue. The problem is not, mind you, the food itself. I love a good stir fry. The problem is the dishonesty, or at least the benign ignorance, of calling it something it’s not.
And it doesn't end there. One popular M.B. chain makes the claim, which is now a widespread belief, that M.B. originated with Genghis Khan’s soldiers using their shields as woks. Preposterous. This story was dreamed up in an air-conditioned office in Cleveland by some white people in ties. A nomadic warrior carrying around a sack of rapidly-spoiling veggies, rice and other stir-fry implements would be slowed down considerably, and before long end up dead. Why would you do that when you have a perfectly good food source that can walk, feed and reproduce by itself?
And not only do sheep/horses/goats/camels/cattle (the “big 5” of Mongol pastoralism) provide you with food, they provide you with clothes, shelter, milk, transport and load-bearing. They can even get you drunk, if you ferment or distill the milk. When’s the last time you saw a bell pepper do any of this? Vegetables suck. They’re good for nothing but sitting around and going bad:
Even Nancy Reagan says NO to veggies!
Not only that, but vegetables are incredibly labor-intensive. You have to stay in one place and farm them. Mongols don’t farm, they pillage people who farm. Do you know what the Mongolian word for fruit/veggies is? Tsagaan Khoolh “white food”. In this case the “white” has some connotation of effeminacy or weakness.* That’s right; the Mongolian word for veggies is “wimp chow”. Vegetarians have it hard here.
Real Mongolian cooking doesn’t even use woks. A soldier in the Mongol Hordes would be more likely to use a wok as a shield than vice versa. Woks feature nowhere in the Mongolian kitchen. But you know what do? Hollowed-out marmot carcasses:
Real Mongolian cooking is the manliest culinary tradition in the world. Mongolian food, by and large, requires only two things: fire and dead animals. You don’t even need utensils. You eat the meat with your hands and a knife. I can’t think of a single Mongolian dish that isn’t entirely or almost entirely animal products. You know what the Mongolian equivalent of a Thanksgiving turkey is? Roasted sheep head. They have it on special occasions and give it to the guest of honor. Again, awesome.
Even Mongolian tea is badass and manly. In the States we don’t really think of tea as being badass, more the province of hippies, Englishmen and other enemies of freedom. Red-blooded Americans drink coffee. Black, maybe with a little milk. But even here Mongolians have us beat. Mongolian milk tea is the manliest morning beverage in the universe. Let me explain:
First, you start with a brick of tea. How, you may ask, does tea come in bricks? Mongols have done this for centuries. Traditionally, the leaves are pressed and held together with COW BLOOD.* Holy crap. Is there anything about Mongolian food that doesn’t kick ass? (Hint: no.)
So, you break off a chunk of blood-tea and boil it. Meanwhile, you take an equal measure of milk--whole, none of this lo-fat nonsense-- some butter, salt to taste, and maybe a bit of cooked rice, if you’ve plundered any farms recently. Mix together, and enjoy. The resulting high-calorie tour de force is less tea and more broth. It’s great for floating dumplings in or dipping meat. In the latter case, by the end of your meal you have bits of meat and blood sausage floating in the tea, which improves the taste. Then you drink it, sharpen your sword, and overthrow the Song Dynasty:
* Although the term does have its origins in the literal white color of dairy products--basically it initially referred to anything that wasn't the actual flesh of an animal.