I was given a bag of aruul on my last trip to Mongolia in the fall of 2006. I’ve kept it in the freezer and have been eating a little at a time to make it last. I’m now down to the final three or so pieces, plus some bits of dried cream. So, I’ve kind of had Mongolian food on the brain, thinking about the upcoming trip.
One of my first goals upon arrival is to snag a bag of aruul for snacking on the road. Aruul is essentially dried skim milk. It’s really hard and is definitely an acquired taste. My first encounter with it was when I was out in the early morning viewing the takhi at Khomiin Tal and the ranger offered me a piece for breakfast. I hadn’t even had a cup of coffee yet, so I started to chew away at it and figured I’d better make it through most of it to be polite. By the time I was done, I liked it just fine. It has a yogurty tang.
The humidity is so low in Mongolia that they can keep raw meat and dairy without refrigeration, although Westerns had better be careful what they try since we don’t have the resistance the Mongolians have built up. On the way back from Khomiin Tal, we stopped at a soum center (county seat) for lunch, which turned out to be what is almost the national dish, buuz, pronounced more like booooz, with a long “o”. Every culture, it seems, has some version of meat/veg in a dough pocket. Think Cornish pasties. So here’s the inside of the cookshop. I asked to take a picture and the reaction was along the lines of “Sure, if you want to photograph something so utterly ordinary and uninteresting it’s fine by us.”
While waiting for our order to be prepared, we wandered around the busy central “plaza”. Over in the shade were three women setting up a table with their wares, a dismembered carcass of some kind. They saw me taking the picture and we made eye contact. I went over, gestured with my camera and thanked them. Then I summoned up my very minimal Mongolian and told them that I was an artist from California. That elicited all kinds of smiles. This kind of experience is a big reason Why I Don’t Take Packaged Tours.
The soum center. I’m not sure of the name. It’s on the north shore of Khar Us Nur and I have maps with two different names. Someone help me out here.