Yesterday friend Bev and I traipsed downtown – she with her cane, and me with my rolling shopping cart – to partake of a celebratory lunch on occasion of her 76th birthday. Bev’s choice of restaurant was the newly opened Mongolian Grill at a local Mall. In our little municipality, currently in the throes of debating whether or not it might declare city status, there is a surfeit of Chinese, Sushi, Pizza and Burger restaurants, so dining out can be predictably boring, and less interesting than slinging the pots and pans at home concocting some unexpected meals. Thus the lure of novelty caused us some anticipation and promised a lift on an otherwise grey and dreary, overcast March day.
The restaurant was a typical mall frontage hole-in-the-wall, with bold signage outside and prosaic diner arrangement inside; a long counter holding a variety of food-stuffs to be selected from separated the food prep and eating areas. Not particularly redolent of a Mongolian experience, I thought, rather fancifully. The cooking arrangement fascinated me. It was a large round griddle, around which the “chef” ambled, stirring and turning over separate mounds of raw ingredients. It reminded me of sanitized indoor camp-fire cooking, free of the pesky odours of dried dung or wood fire, free of the bits of ash and cinders which inevitably land on food during outdoor cooking. So rather doubting that fermented mare’s milk might be on offer as drink of choice, I settled for a cup of hot water, and Bev, for a cup of tea.
The food portions seemed appropriate to the theme of Mongolian vittles, of what might be available to travellers on the Mongolian steppes – shaved meats, bits of a variety of vegetables, small clump of gluey rice. Just the sort of stuff that the weary Mongol hordes might expect to prepare and eat whenever they rested in camp after their raids on far-flung villages, where, perhaps they were able to capture a stray sheep or goat, or a chicken or two, which had to be apportioned to feed a largish group. Of course, at the end of winter, they may not have had fresh cilantro, green onions or chile peppers with which to spice their daily rations. But here in North America, we can be pretend Mongol diners without fear of lacking any ingredients with which to tempt our palate. And, as an older women, we were grateful at not having to gather fuel, start and keep going a fire, kill, gut and clean a ptarmigan or goat, glean about the prairie for available green stuff to augment the meal. A fantasy, such as this is lovely to sustain, even briefly.
After lunch, Bev and I said our goodbyes, and I dragged my cart off to the supermarket to fill it with provisions. Standing among the array of vegetables displayed I had a flash of fancy that all of this bounty is illusory. What if those vegetable bins were suddenly empty? What could I glean on the way home with which to sustain myself? And if I were able to find the errant day-lily bulb in one of the municipal plantings, dig it up and proudly take home, how would I be able to process it via cooking if there was no fuel for my magical electric range? Would I resort to using a metal garbage can lid for a griddle, fuelled by twigs from my neighbour’s ornamental shrubs?
Of course, where I live, in a ten-story apartment block, neighbours are obsessed with pigeon populations roosting on the balconies. There is much neighbourly palaver and problem solving around the question of how to make the balconies unattractive to the pigeons.
Maybe there is another way to consider these birds. They are a post apocalyptic source of protein. The ingenuity people expend in trying to rid themselves of this nuisance, might well be turned to innovations on how to catch and cook them in the urban jungle.
I rather think this has been a good, if unexpected outcome of my Mongolian Grill feast with Bev.