Monday, 24 January 2011

meat me at the market

Ulaanbaatar is a funny old place. Although it is fairly primitive in many respects (there are only a few hundred miles of tarmac road in a country the size of France, Spain, Germany and UK combined) and while it's remoteness can be unforgiving (Ulaanbaatar is the most remote capital city in the world - and the coldest) the Mongolian capital has markets than can sell you anything from a rare species of monkey to HP Sauce. Some may have seen the Black Market on Ewan McGregor's 'The Long Way Round' (it's where he picked up motorbike parts). It is an intimidating place. However, my preferred market is nearer the centre of town and unlike the Black Market (which specialises in dirty heavy goods) the Mercury Market is just for food - a great passion of mine.
Each week I set off with my shopping list. The market starts in the car park where you can pick up a freshly slaughtered sheep if the mood takes you. The market itself is split into four areas. A small entrance hall that offers perfumes, DVDs and other capitalist oriented consumables leads into the first main hall. Here you can find any fruit you could possibly want and any packeted or tinned items you can imagine (this week I managed to source fresh Russian cranberry sauce in vodka and Bisto veggie stock cubes).
This hall leads onto a passage displaying a variety of interesting dairy products. They say it's cheese but coming from France I ain't going anywhere near it. A dozen or so paces on and you reach another large hall (the same size as the fruit and tinnery). The first half is overflowing with seasonal vegetables (like the fruit almost all imported via Russia or China). An incredible assortment of potatoes line the stalls with any number of intriguing root vegetables piled upon them. The vegetables lead to the second half of the hall houses my favourite stalls - the butchers.
From a room in the back you can hear the nostalgic baa-ing of a sheep. This is followed by a dull thwudd. From here a saw can be heard accompanied by the sound of slops falling on the floor. Within minutes freshly butchered mutton is on offer. That's what I call fresh food. On a myriad of clean(ish) tables an incredible variety of meat cuts are nonchalently displayed. One of the butchers has a seemingly mummified sheep's head as her display sign. The roast mutton I cooked up yesterday was one of the best roasts I can remember.
Mongolian of the day:- vegetarian :: [does not compute]