Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mongolian Food: Khorkhog (Real Mongolian Barbecue)

The first time I had "Mongolian barbecue" I was in Indianapolis at what was basically a build-your-own stir-fry joint. I don't remember if it was good or bad, just that there was a buffet line of vegetables and sauces, and some nice gentleman cooked it all in a giant novelty wok.

It turns out there's nothing Mongolian about that (you can tell by all the vegetables. My entire time in Mongolia, the only vegetables I saw were cabbage and potatoes). On the last day of our trip, Minde said he'd cook Mongolian barbecue for a special treat. According to Mongolfood.info, the dish Minde was calling "Mongolian barbecue" is khorkhog and consists of mutton cooked in a container with hot stones.

That night we were staying in a ger with a nomad family that used dung for their fires instead of wood. At first I was disturbed by the idea, but I found it kept the ger warm much longer than the wood fires did. I'm a dung-power convert. While Minde and the family built the fire, I noticed them adding a bunch of flat, oval-shaped stones to the stove with the cow dung. I hadn't noticed them doing that at the other ger we stayed in, so I figured it had something to do with the heat source. I was wrong; it had to do with the menu.

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 01

When the fire was hot, Minde brought out his large cooking pot filled on the bottom with water and salt. He laid in a couple mutton ribs.

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 02

Then pulled one of the stones out of the fire ...

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 05

... and added it right on top of the meat. (Yes, the dung-rock was touching the food-meat).

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 03

It got very smoky very quickly.

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 04

Minde continued to layer mutton ribs and rocks until he was out of mutton. Then he began fitting some new potatoes in between the stones.

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 06

Finally he covered the entire thing in cabbage leaves and covered the pot.

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 07

The pot was then hefted back on top of the stove, where it was allowed to sit for an hour.

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 08

After letting the barbecue stew for 60 minutes, Minde unveiled it:

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 09

Then he used a fork to separate the barbecue into two bowls: one with potatoes and cabbage, and one with meat.

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 11

We ate the cabbage and potatoes with forks, and the mutton with our hands right off the bone.

 Real Mongolian Barbecue - 10

I did my best, but no could match our host, who pulled out a small knife and cleaned the ribs and shoulder bones so thoroughly of any meat, fat or gristle that they looked like they'd been made from Plaster of Paris for a 3rd grade science class.

Later we threw them to the dogs, who raced right to the Americans, where the bones were covered in delicious little flecks of smoky meat. The slower dogs were left to sniff around at the clean, dry, white bones left by our hosts. I have to admit I felt a little sorry for those dogs; they looked utterly disappointed by the whole affair.

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