- Food & Drink
There are places in the world where the British habit of splashing cold milk into hot tea is discussed in hushed tones. The kind of hushed tones used to describe a suppurating carbuncle on your undercarriage or a friend’s brainstorm conversion to UKIP. What would these tea tyrants think of Mongolian milk tea? They may drop their cup and saucer. The monocle would probably fall from their eye. And there’s a strong possibility that they would lose it entirely, tear off all their clothes and drive around Mongolia in the nud, torching all the dairies and screaming: “This is for the good of humanity!”
Mongolian milk tea is an acquired taste and I did not manage to acquire it.
It was our second day in Mongolia and we’d made a break from Ulaanbaatur. We were on a tour of Terelj National Park, an area of outstanding naturalness conveniently located 40km from the city centre. The section nearest to Ulaanbaatur is packed – if a wilderness can be said to be packed – with tourist ger camps, Mongolian art shops, nomadic life experiences and a monastery.
Free of Ulaanbaatur’s soupy atmosphere, we drank in the tingling fresh air and marvelled at the stark countryside. Part of the tour involved a trip to a ger tent. We could gawp at a family in their real ger tent home and in exchange all we had to do was buy either lunch or a horse riding expedition. We chose horse riding and galloped across the Mongolian grassland with our hair flying, coats flapping and eyes wide. Occasionally one of us would shriek: “I can’t make the horse stop! This isn’t how I want to die!” But mostly we just made a pitiful wailing noise.
At the ger, we were greeted by the man of the tent, who wore magnificent knee-high boots. Mongolian men really know how to do footwear. He settled us down on a sofa and poured us all a large steaming bowl of milk tea from a flask. I’ve been looking up milk tea since I got back and it’s made by boiling tea in water, then adding an equal amount of milk from whatever lactating animal you have handy, boiling it up again, frothing it with a ladle and then adding salt to taste.
The amount of salt I think a cup of tea needs is approximately none. Mongolians beg to differ. It tastes like tea would taste if you swapped the tea for Blue Dragon Medium Egg Noodles. It’s sort of wheaty and salty and OK as long as it’s hot. Let it get tepid and you’ve got a bowl of salty tea that is going to challenge your gag reflexes to a fight.
The tea came with a bowl of dried milk curds called aruul for us to snack on. They have a crumbly texture and taste like Satan’s Parmesan. I’m going to go out on a limb and say I prefer biscuits.
The bowls of milk tea we drank at the ger tent – 1 to fortify us pre-horse ride, 1 to soothe our shattered nerves post-gallop – were ambrosia compared the cups I ordered by accident at the train station on our last morning. It was instant milk tea, which I ordered because Mongolian is a difficult language. I wanted black teas, I got instant milk teas, they tasted like rehydrated baby’s sick.