And you thought Mongolian Beef was exotic

And you thought Mongolian Beef was exotic

The fortunate thing about life here in the digital future is the ability to delve deep into obscure things you would never encounter as a creature of the last century unless you invested oceans of time and money. It’s also a supremely bad thing as it eats our time and brains. If you’ve ever looked up, rubbing your eyes, from a computer, tablet or phone and thought, “wait, where am I?” you know what I’m talking about.

I’m following a social media account from Inner Mongolia that’s all about cooking, and it’s a little daunting. I thought I had a pretty good handle on oddball foods but this is an education in deep dive weird food, at least when viewed through American meatloaf and fried chicken eyes.

It’s a family living in what looks like a fancy tent in the middle of nowhere, cooking on an open fire outdoors a little distance from the living space. The husband says something like “come wife, let’s prepare this goat.”

The whole goat gets chopped up and plopped into a pan the size of a wide track Pontiac with water, root vegetables and “local big salt.” A few hours later, the dish is ready and the whole extended family munches on goat bits.

That’s not the big payoff, though. They cook up beef spinal column, entire lambs sewn into their own skin with onions, potatoes and carrots, huge amounts of beef marrow, cow heads and what surely must be the apex of oddities: camel hump.

The separated hump of a sadly deceased camel looks like a camel hump shaped lump of white chair stuffing. The proportions are always massive, and accompanied by tender monologues. “Here we are, younger brother. The dish is completed. Let us feast.” There are no plates or cutlery beyond a shared knife when needed. Everything is finger food, even if the food is pork fingers.

Many of these dishes are obviously ancient in origin and no one has any claims on judging them. Camel hump is, according to the hosts, nutritionally packed, if only by association. “This provides the camel with so much energy! Today we will feast!”

There are almost always large numbers of visitors come to share in the bounty. Sometimes I can’t help but feel a little envious. Not envious of the food so much as the conviviality and joy with which they all eat their meals.

The dishes use every bit of the animal, if not for eating then for clothes or other necessities. There is no waste, which is at some level at least respectful. Superstar chef Gordon Ramsay loses a little piece of my admiration every time he heaves a portion of protein across the yard just because he’s making an angry scene. We don’t throw away taken lives, pal.

My closest lifetime friend spent some time in Mongolia. I shared my online discovery with him, and he reported the last time he was there, he was served lamb with root vegetables three times in a week.

Each time, he was advised to drink at least several vodka shots along with the lamb to prevent later digestive upsets. Once all was consumed and drank, they insisted on striking off to climb a mountain. And here I sit with my delivery pizza.

The Mongolian family sits on the floor around a low table: the couple, their siblings, cousins, aunties and friends. Everyone wears bright colors and digs into their camel hump with gusto.

Is it so different from our Sunday family gatherings around a big pan of lasagna? Well, yes. We aren’t eating boiled bull spine. Still, I cannot look away.

There’s something wonderful about such close to the earth family closeness that is missing from many of our lives. The reason is not difficult to ferret out. While they’re slapping each other on the back, eating up oddball dishes with gusto and chatting endlessly among themselves about their lives, we are buried in electronic screens, living such things vicariously from across the globe.

Loading next article...

End of content

No more pages to load