Mongolia

Mongolia Monday- Real Mongolian BBQ (Boodog)

Siberian marmot in Gun-Galuut Nature Reserve, July 2009

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.

Marmots in Hustai National Park, May 2005

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.

Stove heating up rocks and marmot carcass ready to stuff

The meat is stuffed back into the carcass, along with the hot rocks, which will cook the meat from the inside; the cook made sure that the carcass was stuffed with rocks all the way down into the hind legs

Pounding the meat and rocks down into the carcass

Closing the neck opening with wire

Then we all adjourned to this beautful spot by the river for picnic dinner

Now for the famous part: removing the fur with a portable torch

A helper scrapped the singed fur off and also the fat as it came to the surface

The next step was to wipe down the carcass with bunches of grass and then rinse and scrub it with water

The neck wire was removed and the juice poured into a cup, which was then handed to me. I drank it right down and it was quite good

Then the carcass was split open to get at the chunks of meat; I was also given the tongue and it was good, too

Dinner is served

As is traditional, the hot rocks were passed around for health and good luck

We also had cabbage salad, everything washed down with Mongolian vodka. We had been drinking airag, but my guide said that airag and boodog don't mix, so we switched to the vodka. Did I say I was having a great time?

Not much left. I ate my share. Yes, it was good. Really good

Notice the back paw has four toes and the front paw has five; why this is true will be the subject of my next Mongolia Monday post

4 replies »

  1. Mongolians: You are most welcome to come to my farm and partake of as many of our no-doubt-inferior but remarkably similar-looking Pennsylvania marmots as you can either catch or induce the dogs to share with you. (Cole shares cheerfully, Pip less so, but she is biddable and will cooperate if required.) There are some big fat ones in the settes on the property line that the dogs have not been able to catch far enough from their holes yet.

    I have a portable torch and an outdoor fire pit and vodka and can make a cabbage salad. We await your arrival.

    Ours are emphatically NOT endangered.

    Also, I am going to try this method with a less adventuresome (for a Yankee) creature — a chicken or a rabbit, perhaps.

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  2. I’ll put out the word to my Mongol friends. It wouldn’t surprise me if there was someone back closer to you who will take you up on that. When you ask a Mongol in the US what they miss most, boodog is usually on the list, along with family, the countryside, airag and horses, not always in that order.

    The Mongols cook goat a similar way, stuffing the body cavity with hot rocks and onions, but then putting the whole thing into a metal cannister and setting it on hot coals for the day. That’s “khorhog”.

    Native Hawaiians stuff a pig and then bury it in the ground over hot coals.

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  3. Great post. I think Mongolians should eat less marmot and more goat. Goats are equally crispy when roasted and they’re bigger and make a supple dish. Also, you know, bubonic plague.

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