- Food & Drink
There is nothing like being denied something to make you want it. In Mongolia, it was vegetables. I don’t normally really fancy vegetables, I’m a carb girl. But there is something about being offered meat and dough or meat and rice all the time, sometimes with a little side of mayonnaised carrot, that made me think: “Wouldn’t a salad be nice?”
It was our second day in Ulaanbaatur and we’d spent it revolting our guide with a terrible picnic. Our contrary desire for vegetables had been partially sated by a jar of pickled onions, but we wanted more. For dinner, we went to the second branch of Baylag Buuz, which looks less like a minicab firm that it’s sister cafe and has big windows looking out onto the traffic carnage of Peace Avenue. There, we appalled our second Mongolian of the day with our eating habits.
We went through the menu and found all the vegetarian dishes. There was 5 of them. In a 4 page, double-sided menu. So we ordered a vegetarian feast and 2 meat buuz for good luck. As we pointed to our choices, our waiter’s face became more and more visibly disgusted. I suspect the first words out of his mouth when he went back to the kitchen was: “You will not believe what this bunch of crazy foreign women have ordered.” As the food came, I was prepared to admit that the meal was a little unbalanced. In fact, it was almost entirely the same thing: dough with a shredded vegetable garnish.
The main dish we shared was Vegetable Tsuvia (T1200/50p). It was shredded dough masquerading as noodles stir fried with shredded cabbage, carrot and chillies (but not much). It was fantastic – the first Mongolian dish I’d tried and could love straight away, with no need to get to know each other better or work hard to appreciate the differences that make us compatible.
The soft, fried dough that bulked out the Tsuvia was the mainstay of our meal. It had a go at being noodles in the Tsuvia; not entirely convincingly – it tasted a little too much like bread. And we ate it as bread: Fried Steamed Bread (T250/11p), which is just like a savoury doughnut. We ate it as Vegetable Khuushur (T460/20p), a pancake folded around a tiny amount of shredded carrot and cabbage and then fried. We also had a Yeasty Pancake (T250/11p), which was the Khuushur but without the distraction of the carrot and cabbage filling. Our vegetarian feast had turned out to be a bread feast and as a carb girl, I wasn’t unhappy.
Breaking away briefly from the bread, we had Fried Potatoes Topped with Onions (T800/34p). I’ve said it before, but it’s worth saying again: chips topped with onions are brilliant. Potatoes and onions are a great combination and I want to see more of it. Next time you are at the kebab/hot dog van/chip shop, ask for fried onions with your chips. Together, we can start a revolution. It might not help end climate change or bring justice to the masses, but it will make eating chips an even more enjoyable experience and that’s something worth striving for.
The 2 meat buuz (T300/13p each) didn’t change my opinion of them. They were as squelchy and primal as before and I gave them a wide berth, concentrating hard on the dough.
With 2 bottles of Fanta Orange, a bottle of orange juice and a bottle of water, the bill came to about £3 and it was a pleasure to eat. A first for me in Mongolia, where the food had mostly been relegated to something to eat rather than something to enjoy.