For those out there who think that Mongolian barbecue equals collecting ingredients from a buffet and then handing them over to a spatula-wielding chef standing at an oversized circular griddle, the wonderful Roads & Kingdoms has some news. The real Mongolian barbecue is actually bodog, a dish that involves slow-cooking mutton inside its own carcass. From the R&K report, written by Brett Forrest:
Upon landing in Ulaanbaatar, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Mongolian barbecue is not Mongolian at all. Genghis Khan didn’t feed his army on stir fry. Research tells me that a Taiwanese man formulated Mongolian barbecue some years ago, and I think I know why he chose the name that he did. When you use Mongolia as an adjective, it intensifies any noun beside which you place it. Warrior: Mongolian warrior. Vodka: Mongolian vodka. Girlfriend: Mongolian girlfriend. Taiwanese barbecue? Hardly worth a taste.
In the way of intensity, Mongolia doesn’t disappoint. The country is double the size of Turkey, yet there are only two highways, making transport a frontiersman’s undertaking. Temperatures bottomed out at minus -42 degrees when I was there, yet many Mongolians are content to live in circular enclosures made of fabric. These people ambulate nomadically around the country along some of the remotest land in the world, their camps set against lonely winter tableaux, not a soul in sight. It raises some questions: how do they survive? What do they eat? If Mongolian barbecue wasn’t Mongolian, then what dish was Mongolian? I made some effort to answer these questions, and what I discovered is not for the weakly constituted. It is Mongolian, and it is intense.
It is called bodog (bow-dug), and I drove eastward from Ulaanbaatar to find it….In Ulaanbaatar, I had met with the president of the Mongolian Cook’s Association, a middle-aged gentleman who bore the given name of the bygone socialist time, Oktyabri (October) Janchiv. He wore blocky, shaded prescription glasses. During our talk, he routinely produced a comb from his jacket pocket and jazzed his black hair upward. He spoke in marbled, academic Russian. I thought of him as the Mongolian Brezhnev, and he knew everything about bodog. He said that bodog dated to the time of the khans. “When Genghis Khan had a victory,” Janchiv said, “he would make bodog for everybody in large banquets.” Janchiv explained that bodog was elemental to the success of the roving Mongol armies, as the process required no crockery. “Mongols were not good with clay or porcelain. So this was the most effective way of cooking at that time.” Even half of civilization is plenty to conquer, and this is how the Mongols did it, without vulnerable food supply lines, killing what they encountered, using an animal’s earthly vessel as the pot and pan that would otherwise weigh down a combatant horseman.