Tea time in Mongolia

‘Pssssth… psssth… splat’ went the intestine sausage as our Mongolian nomad host jabbed the sizzling entrail with a fork, sending boiling hot yellow yak pus flying across the ger.

Khishgee, our guide, had asked if we’d mind popping in on her aunt, as we were passing her village which she'd not visited in over a year. Of course we didn't mind - nor did we anticipate the amazing hospitality we were shown there. The brief stop for tea turned into a couple of hours and our second lunch of the day - and it wasn’t quite noon yet.

First we were served tea. It was minus 17 outside, cold enough to freeze your nostril hairs, and the prospect of a hot cuppa to return the blood to our toes was incredibly enticing. We huddled together, rubbing our hands, and watched traditional Mongolian tea being prepared in a large wok-like pan on top of a small cast iron wood/dung fired stove, which also serves as the central heating system which warms the whole ger.

Milky green tea was brought to the boil, seasoned with spices and some white granules – cardamom and sugar I assumed – and served in bone china cups. Mmm.

Ah, not sugar. Salt. Interesting. We drank the tea slowly enough to not be offered a top up, but quickly enough to not appear rude.

Khisghee taught us some traditional Mongolian family games played with pieces of goat ankle bone whilst lunch was prepared.

The meal consisted of a hunk of meat fetched from the natural ice cold store which I’d clocked at the entrance to the ger.
This was also boiled up in the pan, along with a potato and carrot. The couple of boys in our group were brave enough to try the heart, liver, stomach and 'blood sausage' (the stuff in the intestines). I’m ashamed to admit that I, only recently having giving up vegetarianism after 10 years, didn’t quite have the stomach for stomach, nor much appetite anyway since we’d had our first lunch – mutton pasties – only half an hour previously.

However, conscious that these people were being generous enough to share their hard-earned food with us, and not wanting to look like the fussy spoilt western brat that I am, I selected some veg and a few bits that looked more like meat as I know it, and washed it down with my salty tea, trying to imagine that it was actually a nice piece of roast chicken and gravy.

A post-lunch horse trek through the Gorkhi-Terelj national park helped the food go down. We rode up to a beautifully decorated Buddhist medicine temple nestled among pine trees. The sun was high in the sky and snow glistened on the ground, like a glittery pound shop Christmas card scene. Beautiful.

Until we started to lose feeling in our fingers again and returned to the ger. Just in time for another cup of tea.

H Charnock

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