I had the wonderful opportunity to experience a homecooked Mongolian dinner, cooked by Mongolians, thanks to Namis and her husband, Jiri. It’s one cuisine that I’d never encountered before, so you can imagine how excited I was!
Veggie panini (pesto, eggplant, tomato, rocket, mozzarella) $9.90
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Port Melbourne, VIC 3207
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The event happened on a Saturday night, and knowing how meaty it was probably going to be, I went healthy after dance class and got myself a veggie panino for lunch. Noisette bakery is a mere stone’s throw from my home. I’ve been there a number of times… and while the baked breads are good there, their coffees, sandwiches and sweets aren’t that exciting.
But on to the main event! Before arriving, my idea of Mongolian food revolved around images of meaty, hearty fare with sauce and spices… such as Mongolian beef / lamb (served on a sizzling plate) that you can find in Chinese restaurants. I could not have been more wrong…
Namis explained that in the Mongolian steppes, you’ve got an endless expanse of grassland. There aren’t much other plant varieties around, meaning spices and seasonings don’t feature much in Mongolian fare. The staple food is stark and simple: meat and potatoes cooked in water and seasoned with salt.
You can imagine us (non-Mongolian) guests’ look of mild horror when a large oven dish of boiled lamb shanks, beef spine and potatoes appeared as the dinner table centrepiece…!
The strangeness continued… the only ‘cutlery’ we had were two hand knives for the whole table. Jiri demonstrated how to eat food the ‘Mongolian way’. When available, grab a knife and simply carve out (with your hands) morsels of flesh off the meat centrepiece. You then eat with your hands. It was tricky business… for those of us who aren’t familiar with it, the cooked meats were piping hot… *ow ow ow!!!*… and we had to be careful not to carve our fingers by accident!
Thankfully, Jiri very kindly did most of the the carving work for us, although some of us (like Serene and myself) started to grab whole chunks of meat on-the-bone to gnaw at. In our books, strangeness was good, and we really dug it… gristle, tendons, fascia, marrow, sinews and all! But with a knowing smile, Namis thoughtfully came out with chopsticks for the daintier amongst us to clutch and wield.
Our dinner hosts made two salads to go with the meats. These weren’t part of the authentic experience, but they knew that most of us would appreciate some greens. The stir fried lamb with glass noodles and black fungus (on the left) was lovely. In fact, if they did not have these salads as accompaniments, I would have struggled with eating that daunting mountain of boiled meat and potatoes.
Just when I thought that was the end of the meal, Namis calmly announced there still was a second course…! Jiri went into the kitchen and started rolling dough and tossing them into the pot of beef and lamb stock.
The second course was handmade noodle soup, the hearty stock that came from the boiled meats made this a very tasty dish. And despite being incredibly full from overeating course number one, I loved the soup so much that I had two bowls!
We ended with Chinese tea and some (non-Mongolian) sweets that us guests brought along, including a delicious durian cake!
This was quite the experience for many of us, and I’d like to thank our gracious hosts, Namis & Jiri, for letting us partake in this traditional style meal. Now when I hear somebody mention Mongolian BBQ lamb (on a hot plate) as part of Mongolian cuisine, I’d smirk to myself inside and think back on this memorable meal. ; )