Sunday, October 25, 2015

Killing the Fatted Calf

Our winter meat selected and roped (in the first throw!)
This past week was fall break--a much needed one-week off from work. Zorig coordinated a trip to the countryside, to the north, where he has a camp on the Chuluut River. 

As always, a trip to the countryside is thick with adventure and deep in opportunities to connect with nature, with the earth, and to feel a part of the cycle of life. Our trip included the selection of the three year old cow that is to be our meat for the cold winter months ahead. While Zorig had mentioned that we'd be bringing back our winter meat, I did not understand that I'd be witness to the entire process--from selection all the way to eating that first steak last night in our home. 

A little help from our steel steed
Again--Mongolia is filled with surprises, at least for us foreigners that is. While this sometimes hits me sideways initially, it offers new and alternate perspectives on life. In the U.S. most people get their food from the store. While more are beginning to think about where meat comes from and how it was raised, very few are yet involved with or witness to the process of selecting and acquiring their food. While I continue to lead a life filled with moments of surreality, it is not false, fake, or removed from reality. If anything, I am becoming more rooted and grounded in the basic elements of life. Though I went Paleo a couple years back (and am not exactly maintaining it fully here--remember that meat and dairy are the primary food groups here), life in Mongolia includes connecting with components of our caveman ancestry in an authentic way. 

I was witness to it all. Once our ox/cow was selected, then it took the assistance
of our Russian van to get her up from the river bank and to our camp. There she waited, tied to the bathhouse, for the proper tools to arrive (by horseback). Our cow was killed with a swift blow to the head, using the blunt side of an axe, directly on the flat space between the eyes. She went down immediately. A second blow was delivered, her spine was severed behind her head, then a cut was made directly to the heart and she was bled out as much as possible into a large metal tub. I assume this was to make the skinning and quartering process less messy. 

Zorig and Enkhi--the herder who sold us our cow
In the course of a couple of hours our cow was skinned, gutted, quartered, and cut up into manageable pieces. Mongolian women arrived to process the innards which includes emptying the intestines, cleaning them, and then stuffing them with tenderloin--the GOOD meat. I had NO IDEA this is what happened. I feel foolish for not trying the intestinal shaped pieces from my Khorkhog experience back in July. Granted, I opt to not eat the intestinal lining itself, but the meat inside is delicious and tender. Now I know. 

That evening we hosted a small celebration and invited the local nomads, many of whom Zorig has known for the years he's been taking clients to camp and fish the Chuluut, to have a taste of meat and to toast good life and happiness. This soiree included over 20 people, from young child to elderly, and went on for a couple of hours. My girlfriend and I, as the only two Americans, were certainly out of place, but we enjoyed all the smiles and warm feelings expressed to us. We both had moments of sensory and input overload--funny, considering we were in our fifth day of being unplugged from the rest of the world. I guess when you experience something so foreign from all you've known your whole life, it takes some time to feel it, to process it, and to understand it and where you belong in the middle of it. 

This is about half of it....

On Friday we loaded up the meat and it rode behind us, in the back of the Russian van, all the kilometers and hours back to UB. Now it's been butchered into manageable cuts and is in our newly delivered chest freezer. It's ready and waiting to be consumed throughout the long nights of the frigid winter that lies ahead. I love that Zorig thought ahead to do this for our family. Now I hope he can teach me how to cook it. This man knows meat far better than I. Another thing to add to the long list of things he teaches me or opens me up to experiencing. I continue to expand and discover and learn--about this man, this land, these people, and more importantly (and sometimes painfully) about myself. 

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