[So I left you last time right before my Halloween Party (which I assure you was a great success and I will update you all on later) but since I’m on a little bit of a forced vacation right now, I will leave you with a post I wrote a while ago but just haven’t gotten around to posting. Hope you enjoy!]
So say I want food. Which is a daily occurrence for most, if not all of us. Where do I go ? What do I do? Lets do this journey together shall we? 🙂
If its something simple… say bread, or flour, my first stop is the дэлгүүр or delgoor (shop) across the street from my apartment. This store is pretty typical for most Mongolian small shops. Its run out of a private home and if you can imagine an old fashioned store from the old west, where you are separated from the products and your food by a counter, having to ask the shop keeper for how much things are , that’s pretty much it. During periods of time where there are a lot of people, you kinda have to fight for attention. Its like asking for a drink at a bar. Of course once you ask for something… they might not have it… “Do you have eggs ?” I ask . “I don’t have eggs , they didn’t come” says the shop lady. “when do you think they will come?” I ask. “I don’t know, maybe next week” she shrugs. Usually what I do at this point is go to multiple small stores in my part of town.… I might be able to go to three stores and get what I was looking for. Again… this is for simple things… like bread or eggs (sometimes) or apples or candy (always candy). If I want meat or veggies or cheese… then I have to go a little further a field.
In my section of town, there is a large what is called the “Western Market” or баруун бүс in Mongolian. There is a lot here. Bottom floor has food and meat, the second and third floors have food and clothes and household objects etc. There is even a little ‘restaurant’ or гуанз ( guanze)… which I guess is better translated into a canteen. Restaurant just sounds too fancy.
Nonetheless you have to keep your eyes open for what you would like. Its still kind of a mystery how exactly food gets here and from where. When I shop for things I’m looking at food with labels in Korean, German, Polish , Kazakh and Turkish. Oh and Russian, which is where I get my sour cream apparently (Thank you Russia). But one basic rule of thumb here is if you see something special, just buy it right away. Cause by the next time you swing around… it just won’t be there. Which is always sad. I do have my theories about how food get here though. Many shopkeepers will get their stuff from UB, sending it by bus or truck or meeker out into the boonies. Some of the cucumbers aren’t exactly fresh, but we do get a lot of cherry tomatoes (!!!) and sometimes we do get surprises. I walked into one store looking for some veggies in January and what did I find? A lone eggplant. Just sitting there by its lonesome. I definitely bought that sucker. How or why an eggplant ended up here… I have no idea.
Yet, lets say I want meat. Well Mongolia is definitely a good place for meat. On the first floor of the western market, at the very end of the hall, I walk past the veggie shop ladies, with their piles of potatoes, carrots, cabbage and onions, past the ladies with giant milk cans filled with yogurt and Mongolian dairy products, into the Meat Section. This is where I can get pretty much any type of red meat. I have bought mutton, horse and goat meat there. I have also seen camel meat, which like all meat the shop ladies told me is good for your health. But the meat section is always something that just needs to be experienced. You walk into an ark of long silver metal tables, and it isn’t just cuts of meat splayed across them. Its pretty much entire body parts. You look over at what used to be the leg of Bessie, I’m sure, and can point out the hock and different bones as you direct the shop lady what type of meat you would like. This is pretty much my conversation I have with the lady (its always a lady) as she chops up the meat for me, and I stare at her gloveless hands as she hacks away for forever ” Yes I would like some beef…. I don’t like fat, can it not have fat?…. I only want a kilo. How much for a kilo? …. Is the meat machine working?” I have to ask for no fat, cause the carcasses here have a lot of extraneous fat on them. And since fat is another thing that is considered healthy here, you have to ask for just a plain piece of meat, not just a piece of meat wrapped with fat.
As for a meat machine, that’s the meat grinder. For 400 tugs (tugriks, the local currency) I can get that hunk of beef , goat , mutton or whatever meat I have bought that day, grounded into something I can make spaghetti or chili with. It might not be the most sanitary thing. They definitely don’t clean it out between customers. The meat grinder is a little behind the stalls where you buy the meat, and also where they keep the heads. So while my meat is being ground I just stare down at the horses head by my feet … Sometimes it’s Bessie’s head, but for some reason Mr. Ed’s sticks out at me more.
Just going to say, being able to buy a package of ground meat in a market in the states… is going to be so nice.
Even just reading the above kind of makes me go meh I’m so used to it by now.
Here is to many more camel meat chillis to come, but here is also to trip to Whole Foods once I get back 🙂
Till something exciting happens- V.