- Food & Drink
DJ, Leonard and I had had quite a day. We’d rode truculent, semi-wild horses at fences and down ditches. We’d crossed the Swinging Suspension Bridge of Death so we could wander around a Buddhist monastery in our socks. We’d gone off-road in a bright yellow Hyundai Accent, in spite of it not really having any suspension or gears. We’d stared at yaks. And we’d provided our Mongolian guide with the worst picnic of his entire life.
The picnic was an insult to its location: a pin-drop silent clearing amid golden pine trees overlooking Terelj’s valley floor. Behind us, giant Buddhist symbols had been painted on the mountainsides and above us a watery October sun kept us warm and softly lit. To make our comfort complete, Mr S, our guide, had pulled the orange nylon seats out of his Hyundai so we could sit on them around the blanket picnic table.
DJ and Leonard had bought the picnic the night before at The State Department Store. And to be fair to them, it was only the 2nd worst picnic of the holiday (DJ and I bought the worst picnic of the holiday in a 7-eleven in Beijing).
They’d come up against the problem that bedevils picnicking tourists around the world: you don’t know what anything in the shop is, so you can’t tell what would be nice cold for a picnic and what will ruin your bowels if you don’t cook it. The best course of action in these circumstances is to buy things you roughly recognise. Thus, we were trying to open a jar of pickled onions in the middle of a Mongolian wilderness.
And also thus the sliced white bread (OK); the sweet croissanty things (very good); the half moon shaped biscuits (like eating compacted sand); the pear and chocolate chewy biscuits (wrong and addictive. Biscuit crystal meth); an unidentified orange cheese (it’s cheese, we forgive it); the spreadable Brie (this wasn’t cheese and we do not forgive it under any circumstances); a tin of sardines (a wild card there from DJ, who was forced to eat the lot because no one else would touch them and there’s no closing a tin of sardines once you’ve opened them); and a jar of apricot halves in syrup (untouched till China). Leftover from our Russian picnics were two cornichons, which we fought over with stabby plastic forks, some manky satsumas and preserved citrus fruits.
We learnt later from one of the other guests in our hostel, who’d been living with reindeer herders for 3 months, that a meal isn’t a meal in Mongolia unless it features meat. ‘You should, at least, have bought a tin of meat.’ Our picnic had failed the deliciousness test because it lacked Spam.