Horses. Most of us think of them as gallant beasts that work in cooperation with humans. They are have an almost mystic air about them: Their elegance and beauty admired by many.
It will come as no surprise then should I offend with the following post.
There are certain food taboos in every culture. You just don’t eat certain things. In America, one particular taboo is against eating dogs. While I never ate dog while in Korea, I knew where all the restaurants were that served it. It’s the first thing you figure out. Your curiosity betrays you.
In Mongolia, that same mythos exists around horse meat for foreign visitors. In the winter, animals will die. Not all of them will make it. The weather is harsh, often brutal, on the steppe and in the cities. As a seasonal meat, horse comes around most abundantly in the winter. Culling the herd, one might imagine. Interestingly, it’s one of the cheaper meats to buy at the market. There is no shame or fanfare when it enters the markets. It’s simply another protein that Mongolians might partake of in the winter.
“Most Mongolians don’t eat horse meat. It gives them a stomachache,” said one of my teachers.
I told her I wanted to try it. She warned me, but I insisted.
“Maybe you should buy only one kilo.”
I didn’t buy any kilos. I ended up heading to the meat market with a friend, who purchased nearly 3 kilos of the fabled substance. He told me he had too much, and gave me a sizable portion to take home.
So it began.
I cut it up, noticing the lack of fat abundant in most other Mongolian meats. I’m told that’s why it’s cheaper by some: Mongolians enjoy the fat, so lean cuts go for significantly less. I fired up the electric range, and sliced the meat into thin strips so that they would cook faster. I ended up over-cooking them, so the pieces were tough to tear through.
The taste wasn’t anything alarming. It has a less gamey taste than that of the beef usually on sale in this country, and is lightyears ahead of mutton (Note: I dislike mutton tremendously). I ate it with some potatoes and onions. The flavor in each bite reminded me quite a bit of most food in Mongolia: You can taste the steppe. I know some people are picky with rice, insisting that the type of soil it grows in affects the flavor. The meat in Mongolia has the taste and smell of the vast wilderness. You pick up on hints of grass, joined with the aroma of the countryside as it bakes on a warm summer’s noon.
The teacher who warned me about the upsetting consequences of eating horse also told me about her daughter. Her daughter went to America and hated the beef. She said she couldn’t eat it, and that she wanted to go home because of this. I said that you can’t be picky when eating abroad; of course food will be different, and you must adjust accordingly.
After eating the meat here in Mongolia, I imagine it must have been a startling transition for her, seeing as she lived, breathed, and tasted her motherland all her life, only then to taste something remote, removed.
Dinner Table Conversation (Poetry)