Saturday, July 18, 2015

Khorkhog in the Countryside

Enjoying some milk tea while the meat cooks
Before Dad left to go home, we took off on one last countryside adventure. Three days and two nights of driving and camping and a little fishing (Dad caught a third taimen, as well as some lenok and grayling). But before we arrived to our campsite, we tasted our first horhog (khorkhog). For this event, it meant meat cooked both in its skin and with hot rocks. There are a number of ways to do this. On Episode 9 of Bizarre Foods (avail via Netflix) they cook a goat by blowtorching it on the outside, and then putting hot stones down into it's cavity (along with some veggies). Our first experience with horhog was a sheep. I'll do my best to relay here the process we observed. It starts, of course, with a killed and gutted sheep. 

First the blowtorching
First, we watched while she was blowtorched on the outside to burn off all of her wool (well, that which hadn't been sheared away first). Dad and I did see a crew of neighbors busy at work shearing the sheep in a small corral nearby. Similar to how farms worked back in the day, out in the countryside here, members of families in the surrounding area come together to help one another accomplish the work of managing the livestock. There were a good 10 or more people shearing sheep. There were goats and sheep, as well as a good number of cows and horses in the surrounding area. Except for the small corral, there were no fences to be seen. Remember, this country has just 3 million people in it, but over 45 million domestic livestock (cattle, sheep, goats, horses, and camels. Oh...and reindeer in the north). 

Once the skin is sufficiently blowtorched, then she (it could have been a male...I really have NO idea!) is washed clean with water. Most of her skin is now white, with all of the hair gone. She was then cut into parts. They cooked her organs and innards separately (see bowl on left); I managed to try the heart, some liver, and later on, I also tried the infamous tail. 

Nothing quite prepares a Westerner, or at least this American, to watch the intestines and the lining of the stomach being consumed. But this is nothing more than how we are conditioned. We all have foods that we find tasty and that remind us of home or our culture and/or region. For me, I crave a good burger and french fries from time to time (and I can get one here at the Grand Khaan Irish Pub); Zorig craves his soup. Something to appreciate about the way Mongolians eat--nothing is wasted! 

The sheep is cut into pieces and is then put into a large metal pot, such as this one, along with some vegetables (onions and cabbage for ours) and some salt and seasonings. Then HOT ROCKS--just pulled from the stove--are added to the mix. The pot is sealed and placed on top of the stove and our case, I would say it cooked about an hour and a half. Perhaps a little less. 

Then the feast began. Everything is emptied from the pot onto large trays and laid out on a table which everyone gathers around. (Curious note: Cucumbers seem to accompany almost each and every meal here.) There are no plates, no utensils.....not even any napkins. You simply dig in and enjoy a hearty family feast. Mongolians laugh and joke and tell stories. Smiles light up faces and it feels a bit like a barbecue on the 4th of July--but with EVERYONE in the best of moods. I can say that while Zorig and Enji worked hard to keep Dad and I in the loop about the conversation, there is MUCH said that I know we missed. I am motivated to learn this language because I know I'm missing out on so much story. As my cousin said to me, it's strange to feel lonely in the midst of a crowd. 

I'll leave you with this adorable picture of our host's daughter carrying around a baby goat while the adults were working to shear the sheep. She was as cute as could be and not at all shy with the animals. 

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