- Food & Drink
This is Mongolia's idea of a vegetable soup
When DJ, Leonard and I arrived in Ulaanbaatur at the start of October, there was only one thing on our minds: buuz. We had declared our train trip the Holiday of the Steamed Dumpling and we were determined to eat as many of them as possible wherever we went. In Russia, the buttery pelmeni had met our greed and shown it a good time. Expectations were running high for the Mongolian dumplings (buuz), possibly because we knew nothing about Mongolian cuisine.
My first buuz encounter did not go well. ‘Repelled’ is probably the best way to describe my reaction. The wobbly dumplings squelched greasy meat juices and the filling tasted of bland 1950s steak and onion pie. I took against buuz and although we ate in buuz cafes every day, I stayed away from the steamed balls of meat.
But it was our last day and I was feeling bold. What sort of galloping gourmand would I be if I only tried buuz once? We’d spent the morning running around the Winter Palace and needed to fill up quickly before facing the insane taxidermy of the Natural History Museum. We flung ourselves inside Hot Buuz and found a crowd.
The sight of a crowd is always reassuring, so we tried to form a queue. This was a stupid idea and a gang of old women easily outpaced us to the first free table. We learnt that hovering politely gets you nowhere, so we hovered aggressively and got ourselves a small table in the back room.
Our eyes were drawn to the Vegetable Soup with Meat Filled Dumplings (T2300/97p). We should have known by then that when vegetables are mentioned on a menu in Mongolia, that doesn’t actually mean they will have a significant presence in the dish. But the wonderful thing about DJ, Leonard and I is that we flat out refuse to learn from the past, so we were thrilled to see vegetable soup on the menu. We ordered 3 bowlfuls, some steamed bread (T200/8p) and bottles of Voyage (T350/15p), my favourite mineral water in Mongolia (Much Freshest Deep).
The waiter brought us 3 of the meatiest bowls of soup I have ever seen. The vegetables amounted to a handful of potatoes and 2 slices of carrot each. Great hunks of tender, flaking beef bobbed in a meaty stock and the little buuz were filled with more beef (or, at least, meat that tasted like beef. All the other tourists we met seemed to be eating mutton at every meal but we never caught a morsel of it, unless mutton tastes like beef in Mongolia, which it may do).
The mini buuz restored my faith in dumplings. They were juicy rather than greasy and tasted richly of meat rather than depressingly of gristle. The atmosphere was warm and cosy, the waiters quick and kind and eating the steamed bread was like dropping a carbohydrate stone into my stomach. Without question, the best meal I ate in Mongolia.