Summer is here and I thought I’d present a photo essay on one of the most beloved foods in Mongolia….marmot. Say “tarvaga” to the average Mongolian and watch their eyes light up.
Unfortunately, the native Siberian marmots have gone from occupying the steppes in the millions to Endangered in just ten years, having experienced a 70% population drop. The major contributor to this decline was a demand for the pelts by….the Chinese.
Hunting is still allowed during August and September, depending on population numbers, according the species listing in the IUCN Red List. Hunting can also be shut down if bubonic plague flairs up. It turns out that marmots in Mongolia are the source vector for the bubonic plague that hit Europe in the 1340s. The Mongols know that if they see a marmot behaving strangely, then it is likely that plague is present.
The cooking traditions surrounding marmot in Mongolia is the stuff of visitor legend. A number of the travel accounts I’ve read have an account of the preparation of marmot, always with a “and you won’t believe this, but….” tone.
I finally had my chance to try it last year. Since this was a personal extension of hospitality to me because they knew I liked Mongol food, I will allow my hosts to remain anonymous.
(Important note: if you are squeamish or think that meat starts out wrapped in cellophane, you may want to stop reading here. This photo essay will show the whole process from beginning to end.)
Any Mongols reading this are invited to add comments, stories, corrections in the comment section. This is accurate to the best of my knowledge, based on what I saw and was told.