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Artist Fri Feb 10 2012

Tour Diary: Canasta in Mongolia - Day 4 - Dining Options

The latest update comes from Canasta keyboardist/pianist Ryan Tracy. I've included an earlier trip photo from their Facebook account, and will have more images to share related to Ryan's post Swhen I next connect with the band [Update! New photos added!]. For now, enjoy Ryan's tales of Mongolian cuisine. PS: How cute is it they now have Facebook fans from Mongolia! [Read all about why Canasta is touring in Mongolia, and the previous three posts.]

Canasta-4-4web2.jpg
Canasta's Elizabeth Lindau enjoying a bowl of "milk tea" which consists of 90% milk,
9% tea, and 1% salt with a little butter for added richness.

"If you're like me, the best part of traveling to new places is sampling a bit of the local cuisine, and trying things that you might never find at home. My concept of Mongolian food was fairly limited based on the "Mongolian BBQ" chain of restaurants and an episode of "Bizarre Foods" discussed in a previous blog.

[Editor's note: Enjoy another segment from the show, below]

Based on our time here thus far, the Mongolian diet consists of two major meats: mutton and beef; and five major vegetables: potatoes, onions, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage. The good news is that you organic food lovers could not have it any better here. The menus at restaurants are more like a history of the food the restaurant has had, and it's not unlikely for a place to only have 4 or 5 of the things on a 20-item menu. Since the meat and vegetables are so fresh, what they have is what you get. There are no food suppliers or trucks showing up twice a week to stock the restaurant like back at home...the food is simply whatever the town has handy and can sell to the restaurant. Evidence of this can be seen at one rural restaurant in which the cook/waitress/hostess stepped out after we ordered and came back two minutes later with a fresh set of supplies from the store two buildings down. In the major city of Ulaanbaatar the situation is a little different, but the taste of the actual food remains the same.

Canasta-Tea-Mongolia-Resized.jpg
Elizabeth and Ryan enjoying some tea (photos courtesy of the band).

Throughout my life, I have done a good job avoiding mutton, but as the staple of Mongolian cuisine, I was ready to make mutton a part of my life for the next 12 days. I only went about 2 days before giving up completely. The "aged lamb" is a fairly tough piece of meat that gives off a fairly pungent aroma when boiled for a long time as it is done in Mongolia. In some cases, the mutton was edible and "okay" whether as part of a soup, dumpling filler, or a stir-fry add-in. But more often than not, the connected fat pieces and lack of salt/spices make you want to push it off to the side and go vegetarian for a few meals. In one case after a particularly bad run-in with mutton, I ordered a vegetable soup and got a healthy dose of mutton in the soup, so even when you try to avoid it, mutton typically finds its way back to you. We encountered a few other meats on our journey including horse, beef, and beef liver. The "spicy horse" dish was probably one of our favorites mostly because it had a healthy dose of Indian spices, and a fairly mild meaty taste that was a fresh break from mutton.

Canasta-4-3-Horse-web.jpg
A horse is a horse, but a spicy horse...of course!

With China and India so nearby, I figured Mongolian food would be filled with a vast array of spices from nearby countries, but the spice exchange is not like it was 300 years ago. The Mongolian diet is very simple and spices like salt and pepper are not assumed as they are in most American dishes. We had one particular dish that consisted of a steamed dumpling filled with cabbage, carrots, and pepper and the brief taste of pepper made me realize how much I missed this American staple in foods.

Canasta-4-1web.jpg
Seabuckthorn juice is typically served hot with the seeds included on top.

The true shining star in the Mongolian diet though is actually on its drink menu. Vodka is the unofficial national drink of Mongolia, and they know how to do it right here. At a price of around 21,000 tögrögs ($16) you can pick up a premium bottle of vodka with a consistency and taste like some of the best brands known around the world (Grey Goose, Belvedere, Ketel One etc.). If there are any entrepreneurs out there that are looking to import some amazing exotic liquors, this is the place to be. We ordered up one of these bottles with a good number of our meals and sipped delicately enjoying the smooth flavor without any of the harsh aftertaste of some of the $16 vodkas back home, and a cleansing sensation that just may clear your pallet of the taste of mutton."

Canasta-4-2web.jpg
Russia may be the vodka capital of the world, but Mongolia is the underdog that could win it all. Shown here is Ryan Tracy tasting one of Mongolia's best.

<-- Read Day 3! | Read Day 5! -->

 
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Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

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