Lamb Mongolian Style

When you find yourself ushered into a yurt on the high steppes of Inner Mongolia, chances are a lamb is being slaughtered to mark your arrival. Herdsman and their families crave for conversation with a traveler from afar. Most of the time, they see more sheep, goats and cattle than humans. Mongolians make milk tea infused with boiling water and some salt. Dairy products are served: dried milk curds and dried cheese. Did I forget to mention the spirits?

A solitary Mongolian horseback wanders the grasslands carrying little more than a leg of mutton. He is greeted by another Mongolian who invites him in to his yurt. The guest eats and drinks through the night. As he is ready to depart the next day, the host has already packed a fresh leg of mutton for him to take on his way. A Mongolian never arrives home or leaves his host empty handed. He may be plied with other provisions, but you can be assured that he'll leave with some part of a lamb, fresh or frozen.

Mongolians are extremely good and slaughtering sheep. No sharp knife or meat cleaver, a small pocketknife will do the job. An entire sheep is stripped bare with this small knife. Nothing is wasted. The skin becomes clothing. The sheep's blood and its entrails are fed to the dogs.

A large bone of mutton is boiled in water then eaten with the hands. The mutton is dipped into a bowl of salt. Mongolians eat every last bit of meat off the bone. The remaining bone is sometimes used to make a lamb noodle soup. Dried noodles are bought in huge quantities and when migrations occur, you'll see mile on mile of sheep and cattle like ant-trails if you watched them from afar. Mongolians take all of their possessions with them including the dried noodles.

Back in the yurt, you're about to carve your way into a lamb that has been boiled for less than an hour. There are parts of the lamb considered especially tasty such as the shoulder and the head. Be prepared to see blood as you cut into the tender flesh. 'Don't mind the blood', says your host. 'Just keep eating.'

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