Monthly Archives: January 2009

Dining in Mongolia

Grilling meat for hungry customers.

Grilling meat for hungry customers.

Eating in Mongolia is pretty straightforward, and is little changed from the dining traditions recorded by Marco Polo when he crossed this land 700 years ago. As our guide stated on a number of occasions, the Mongolian diet is “meat. We eat meat.” It was certainly something he consumed with relish. But in all fairness, while his assessment isn’t far from the truth, it is a slight oversimplification.

Salads have become fairly common because of Russian occupation for much of the 20th century, and they appear at virtually every meal, including breakfast. (Well, in towns they’re common. The fifty percent of the population that is still nomadic and living traditionally doesn’t have salad.) The salads tend toward beets, carrots, and cabbage, inevitably shredded, singly or combined, with either a vinaigrette or mayonnaise, and usually with garlic. Soup is commonly served at lunch and dinner, and ranges from Russian borscht to traditional Mongolian mutton soup with handmade noodles. Desserts are rare (maybe why they all have great teeth). Continue reading

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O, Mongolia!

The "suburbs" of Ulaanbaatar

When I was young, the name “Outer Mongolia” was often invoked to express the idea of the farthest reaches of the earth. This made the idea of visiting Mongolia seem both impossible and desirable. Fortunately, today, since the fall of Communism, Mongolia is not impossible to visit. But it’s still not easy.

Actually, it’s not that hard to get to the country’s capital, Ulaanbaatar (often called U.B. by locals). You can take a direct flight from Chicago to Beijing, then catch the two-hour Beijing to U.B. flight (which will probably be late), and you’re in Mongolia. Continue reading

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Newfie Cod Cakes

Cod cakes are a traditional Newfoundland dish that many Newfies still eat weekly. The ingredients are not perishable, so this dish would see people through a long, ice-bound winter.

The summer savory is not absolutely required, but it does add a nice flavor, and savory is pretty much the “official” herb of Newfoundland. Wherever you go in Newfoundland, if a dish features an herb, it will be summer savory, and savory stuffing is the standard stuffing for fish and birds alike.

As for the salt pork fat, you can simply discard the crunchy little bits after you’ve rendered the fat, but in Newfoundland, they would most likely be saved to use as the “condiment” called scrunchions, which are usually served with cod tongues (though I find they are pleasant with the cod cakes, as well).

Because the fish has to be soaked, you need to start this dish the night before you plan to make the recipe. It’s a fair bit of work, but it’s worth the effort. And once you know how to work with salt cod, you will find a world of traditional recipes opening up to you, from the bacalao of Portugal to the brandade de morue of southern France. Continue reading

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