When Mongolians head to the countryside for a vacation, they like to a special kind of cooking known as khorhog. The process involves heating stones and placing them along with meat and vegetables into a metal canister that is sealed shut. The pressure is what ends up cooking it, but sometimes, you don’t have a metal canister to use. Instead, most will use a bowl with a lid tightly secured by one means or another.
I went on one with my teachers as a farewell celebration. We went to a ger camp, which is like a resort where you can stay in one of the felt gers instead of a hotel room. There was some sort of misunderstanding with the management (no appointment? Scheduling conflict? I’ll never know), so we ended up driving around the countryside, finding ourselves next to a torn up summer tent and a seemingly abandoned stove. We set up shop, found the land’s owners, and rested in these short houses know as a “cat’s house” in Mongolian (also known as шовгор / showgor).
After the meat and vegetables are done cooking, you’re supposed to hold the hot stone in your hands. It’s believed that the heat helps your circulation, and is thus good for your health. So, all of the teachers grabbed a grease-slicked stone and tossed it between their hands. After, the meat was served. I picked pieces of mutton and chewed them thoughtfully, crunching on bits of sand and gristle. My teachers told me I should just bite it, as that is how it should be eaten. I took the knife, cut myself a large piece, and tore it asunder with my teeth. My teachers smiled approvingly.
Once we had our fill, some teachers drank the fatty broth and grease that was left behind. I passed. The rest of the broth was used to make a soup for everyone to eat a little later. It was clear and beautiful, and a very fitting way to say goodbye to my teachers. While I was apprehensive at first, I’m glad I went. There’s nothing quite as Mongolian as sitting in the countryside, pressure cooking some meat, enjoying the breeze and greening grass.