Nomadic Homestay Part 2

(Continued from Part 1…)

Still in a bit of a fog from my visit with the shaman, I decide to investigate what’s cooking for the celebratory meal! The first course is already well underway. Beef noodle soup!

It seems universal! Every barbecue has a guy like this to man the grill, skillet, pot, etc. And he's all business when he's not pouring vodka...

It seems almost universal! Every barbecue must have a guy like this to man the grill, skillet, pot, etc.

An older relative tends the wood-burning stove the family has brought along. The rusted eight foot chimney, originally designed for venting smoke from gers while cooking indoors, has been erected in front of a row of western-style camping tents. Like most traditional Mongolian foods, there are no spices added to the dish. The one seasoning I notice being sprinkled generously into the pot is salt. It seems to be doing the trick. It smells delicious!

Beef noodle soup. Yum!

Beef noodle soup. Yum!

Goat. It’s what’s for lunch!

Suddenly, my attention is diverted to the main course. “Baaah!” Gleefully, our host father hauls a charcoal black goat over to the outdoor stove. Straddling its front quarters, he wields an ax in his right hand. He means business! His son joins him in restraining the struggling animal. As he prepares himself for the first step in the recipe, he smiles at me with a “this is how it’s done!” look. Deftly and with immense force, he brings down the butt of the ax onto the crown of the goat’s head. “Bleeah! Bleeeah! Ble-“ it cries before the second and third blow quickly silence it.

Now that the goat is limp and unconscious, the father motions to his son to help him flip it over to expose its belly. In a matter of seconds, it’s on its back. The father kneels down and uses the blade of the ax to make a large incision in the upper belly of the beast. Reaching his arm inside the still breathing animal, the herder grimaces with concentration as he searches for something. Thirty seconds later he pulls out its heart! Is this really happening? With its heart resting on top of its upturned belly, this goat is done for.

Waiting patiently for the goat to give up the ghost. Not much doubt that it's not going to live long with its heart outside of its body!

Waiting patiently for the goat to die. Not much doubt that it’s not going to live long with its heart outside of its body!

Success! The father and son duo prepare the first ingredient in the time-honored recipe which calls for: 1) One freshly killed goat and 2) salt.

Success! The father and son duo prepare the first ingredient in the time-honored recipe which calls for: 1) A freshly killed goat, 2) water, and 3) salt.

Moments later the father expands the original incision and empties the contents of the abdomen into several metal bowls. Several younger relatives look on with interest.

Looks delicious already!

Looks delicious! Doesn’t it?

No wasting time in this step!

No wasting time in this step!

"This is how it's done, my nephew!"

“This is how it’s done!”

Meanwhile, his nephew fires up a soviet-era blowtorch to singe the hair off the carcass.

Readying the blowtorch! (I made sure to line up to the side off this operation.)

Readying the blowtorch! (I made sure to line up to the side of this operation to take the this photo.)

After the innards are divided into three basins, two older women take the one containing the rectum and lower bowels and squeeze out the fecal matter inside of them.

A young family member looks on with interest as her aunts prepares the intenstines.

A young family member looks on with interest as her aunts prepares the intestines.

The pile of green grassy material comes from the animal's intestinal tract and rumen, one of the multiple compartments of the stomach that goats, sheep, and other ruminants have to digest the tough grasses of the steppe.

The pile of green grassy material comes from the animal’s intestinal tract and rumen, one of the multiple compartments of the stomach that goats have to digest the tough steppe grasses.

"Can we eat it yet?" "No! You are crazy! We can't eat that!" "I thought Mongolians were tough!" "Okay, you eat it then!" (Tempting as it was, my friend, Erdene, won the argument.)

“Can we eat it yet?” “No! Are you crazy?! We can’t eat that!” “I thought Mongolians were tough!” “Okay, you eat it then!” (Tempting as it was, my friend, Erdene, won the argument.)

Now that the blowtorch is fired up, the hair is burned and scraped off with a large knife. I’m not the only one who gets the ordeal on film!

While my host father looks on, his nephews put the blowtorch to use on its "flamethrower" setting.

While my host father looks on, his nephews put the blowtorch to use on its “flamethrower” setting.

While one directs the flame, the other scrapes off the burnt hair.

While one directs the flame, the other scrapes off the burnt hair.

This event was documented by the participants as well.

This event was documented by the participants as well.

"Dinner's almost ready!"

“Dinner’s almost ready!”

If this goat was not already dead, it would be in serious trouble. I'm glad the men with the flamethrower and knife are on my side!

If this goat was not already dead, it would be in serious trouble. I’m glad the men with the flamethrower and knife are on my side! (At least they were until the wrestling started.)

Bon appetit!

Bon appetit!

While the three men continue with the labor-intensive endeavor, my host mother takes the massive pot of beef noodle stew from the burner and doles out bowls to everyone else. We kneel and sit cross legged around the same tarp used for the ankle bones game earlier. White bread is passed out and I help myself to several pieces. Offered another bowl by my host mom, I can’t refuse!

Finishing the first course, I watch as the meat with singed skin still attached is butchered and thrown into a cooking pot. The highly prized internal organs are saved for later meals throughout our stay. (Goat brains for breakfast, anyone?)

"Let's throw in a bit of this  just for flavor!"

“Let’s throw in a bit of this here meat, just for flavor!”

The second course goes on the stove.

The second course goes on the stove.

Drinking Time!

As I snap photos of the final steps of the meal preparation, I’m beckoned into the main tent by the older relative who has been diligently manning the stove top. Seated on the ground are two other elders with an opened bottle of vodka between them. Two more full ones lay on the ground nearby. My friend and interpreter absent, I’m left to fend for myself.

The men in the tent inspect me carefully and begin to chat in Mongolian as they finish passing around a red thermos cup full of vodka to one another. They’re probably debating how much this white guy can drink… Before I can think too much more about it, the man in charge pours between four and five shots of Chinggis Khan into the cup. That is a LOT of alcohol!

With keen interest, the three Mongolians watch intently as I’m offered the cup. “What’s he gonna do?” they’re asking themselves. This could be a bad idea, but… “Bottoms up!” Without hesitation, I down the entire cup. Whew! Grimacing and wiping away the drops of vodka dribbling down my chin with my sleeve, I quickly hand it back. Thankfully we just ate and this is not on an empty stomach. 

Immediately the men’s eyes open wide with surprise. Smiling and shaking my head, I see they also have the biggest grins I’ve seen on their faces so far. Even the killing of the goat didn’t have this effect. They start laughing and punching each other on the shoulders. “I told you he would drink it all!” “Wow, you were right!” I imagine they’re saying.

Having proven myself, the next few rounds they pour less than a shot for me. Thankfully, my friend comes to rescue me soon.  “Peter, your face is bright red! How much have you drank?” “I dunno, less than them!” I laugh. He’s offered the cup shortly afterwards. A non-drinker, he touches his lips politely to the cup, but our hosts are not very pleased with his lack of enthusiasm. However, I’ve proven myself enough to have a full on conversation with the men, with my friend as translator.

After a twenty minute conversation about the differences between Christianity and Shamanism, we get up to check on the main dish cooking outside.

Meal Time!

An uncle adding water to the cooking goat dish.

An uncle adds water to the cooking goat meat.

After several rounds of salty milk tea with my new friends back in the ger – which thankfully cuts the edge off the vodka quite nicely – the main course arrives. The boiled meat is fairly tender and has a lot of fat on it, the best part of any meal for most Mongolians. Voraciously hungry, I help myself to a goat rib and part of it’s hind left leg. My hosts watch my efforts to cut small pieces off, and insist that I make several cross-cuts to be able to more easily rip it off with my canine teeth. The strategy works and, although I feel I’m eating like a caveman, apparently I’m doing it right.

There’s something very satisfying about this whole process, something elemental. How many times in the U.S. have I really seen where my food comes from? Especially meat! Here I know that the goat lived a full and free life on the steppe and was killed as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The main dish is served steaming hot inside the ger. Notice that there are a few mats laid down, but otherwise the grassy ground serves as a sufficient floor.

The main dish is served steaming hot inside the ger. Notice that there are a few mats laid down, but otherwise the grassy ground serves as a sufficient floor.

Plates, utensils other than knives, and napkins are not necessary! Generally, several blades are placed in the serving dish for people to share in order to cut off desired pieces of meat.

Plates, utensils, and napkins are not necessary! Generally, several knives are placed in the serving dish for people to cut off the desired pieces of meat.

Watermelon for desert!

Watermelon for desert!

Packing up!

After the feasting commences and several more rounds of ankle bones and a small wrestling tournament (which I’ll write more about later) ensue, it’s time to go!

Nomads doing what they do best, packing up and moving out!

Nomads doing what they do best, packing up and moving out! First, they take down the sheepskin outer covering.

"Anyone home?"

“Anyone home?”

The family works with incredible efficiency to take down the ger erected earlier that day for the ceremony.

The family works with incredible efficiency to take down the ger erected earlier that day specifically for the ceremony. Next, the painted wooden roof poles are removed.

One man holds the main support two beams holding up the crown upon which the beams rest. Traditionally, the two pillars are sacred. Walking or standing between them in an erect ger is sacrilegious because they represent the channel between the earthly and the supernatural. Only the most revered lamas and shamans with special powers are permitted to sit in this position.

A man holds in place the main support beams that support the ceiling. Traditionally, the space between the two pillars is sacred. Walking or standing between them is sacrilegious because they represent the conduit between the earthly and the supernatural realms. Only the most revered lamas and shamans with special powers are permitted to sit in this position.

After the roof is taken down, the doorway is removed and the collapsible siding pieces are neatly folded.

After the roof is taken down, the doorway is removed and the collapsible siding pieces are neatly folded.

In the midst of the operation, a girl pauses to collect her thoughts.

In the midst of the operation, a girl pauses to collect her thoughts and belongings.

Almost down!

Almost down! Total time: 10 minutes.

While traditionally the pieces of gers were loaded onto horses, a Japanese truck will do!

While traditionally the pieces of gers were loaded onto horses, a Japanese truck will do!

Securing the ger gear.

Securing the ger gear.

Preparing to load up the truck.

Preparing to load up the truck.

After the camp has been taken down completely, the elders in the family pay their respect to the spirit of the mountain and their ancestors.

After the camp has been taken down completely, the elders in the family pay their respect to the spirits of the mountain and of their ancestors.

Paying homage.

Paying homage.

Honoring the spirits, a man kneels and bows in the direction of the shrine we visited earlier atop the hill.

Honoring the spirits, a man kneels and bows in the direction of the shrine we visited earlier.

Thanks for taking the time to read a bit more about my home stay! Still plenty more material to come from that short but busy visit!

Tags: , , ,

About petersponderings

Addicted to throwing himself into new and challenging adventures...

2 responses to “Nomadic Homestay Part 2”

  1. Eric says :

    AWSOME. Graphic but so cool in seeing how this culture has held onto traditions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: