Ulaanbaatar Then and Now – Part 12

Scott Notes in 2000: Had an interesting day last Sunday. Client picked us up at 9:00am in his 4 wheel drive to take us out for a drive to see some of the countryside. After about 15 minutes we were into the countryside and after about another 15 minutes we left the bitumen road for a dirt track. After about 2.5 hours we arrived at the Gobi countryside (not desert but adjoining it). The client apparently makes an annual trip to this area each summer in order to collect a special type of beetle, which when eaten, is apparently very good for you health wise.

After seeking help from some local nomads and being taken to a particular site by the nomads, they all began searching under rocks in order to locate & capture these beetles. After a sufficient number were collected we all traveled back to the nomads house called a ger (pronounced gair) which is a large white felt tent. We were all ushered inside where we sat either on the floor or on small stools. The client came in with about 1 dozen bottles of vodka and he, his wife & our nomad hosts immediately started drinking neat vodka out of plastic cups, but with the extra delicacy of a live beetle in the cup. I initially refused to drink the vodka with a live beetle, but after a few rounds I gained sufficient nerve to try it. Fortunately it didn’t catch in my throat and went done OK, much to my relief, and much to the joy of the others. Ah well, another experience, although I doubt very much if I will add it to my list of favorite culinary delicacies.

The next hour or so was spent drinking vodka, with live beetles, and talking. During this time the client opened up all of the vodka bottles he had brought inside and into each put about 6 live beetles before re-closing the bottle for later consumption at home.

Thomo Notes in 2006: Fortunately I have been spared the beetles in Mongolia. There are one or two odd foods here or rather odd customs. Again, see the blog entry here from July (I think) last year about the live small river fish.

There is a lot of vodka drunk in Mongolia, and this, rather than being traditional as some folks would say, is a product of the Russian influence for so many years. As the vodka is so cheap here too it is one of the major causes of social problems around town.

Scott Notes in 2000: The client also offered fermented horse’s milk called airag. For those of you of my generation or older the taste reminded me very strongly of eating sour sob weeds when I was very young. One taste of it was enough. Airag was apparently first drunk in Mongolia over 1000 years ago and is still very revered & enjoyed throughout the country. The method of collecting milk in huge leather bags & churning it has apparently not changed in all that time. It normally has an alcohol content of 3% however many Mongolians, including the client, distil it further to boost the alcohol content to about 12%. The Mongolians believe that airag is good for your health, where have I heard that one before, because it helps clean out your liver system. In fact the client says that towards the end of each summer he & his family & friends go to the country for about a week and drink nothing but airag. I don’t think I will be joining them.

Thomo Notes in 2006: I spent a lot of time last summer in the countryside drinking Airag with my favourite Mongolian family. One member in particular really, really likes Airag so even driving back to Ulaanbaatar late at night, we would be sitting in the back of the car still drinking Airag. For further comments on Airag, see Airag.

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