By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
I mean this quite literally. About the eagle, that is. I hope you’re sitting down. My nice daughter from suburban Detroit went to Outer Mongolian in October (no, really!) to have the experience of a lifetime. She rode a horse on the steppes and up in the mountains of Mongolia for six hours a day to hunt with golden eagles.
Why, you ask? I ask? Hanna, my daughter, is a real adventurer, this being the ultimate off-the-grid exploit. She did the riding and the eagle did the hunting for fox. Anything caught was given to the host nomadic family for pelts and the eagles ate the meat.
The bigger question is why and how did Hanna ever get the idea to travel halfway around the world by herself, after a short pit stop in South Korea, to hunt with eagles? It turns out that falconry is still practiced today in the Kazakh region (far northwest corner) of Mongolia. It began in Mongolia some 3,000 years ago and some say before that in the Middle East in 3,500 B.C. Still, I can’t picture my daughter on horseback, riding through the streets of Los Angeles, where she lives, looking for rodents.
Hanna has always been fascinated with birds. We owned a couple of cockatiels and small parrots. Fast forward to present day, when she met a licensed falconer in Ernest Debs Park in Los Angeles. One has to be licensed in order to own and handle birds of prey. That was it, she was all in. That falconer has now become her sponsor (a requirement to be licensed) along with lots of studying and exams. The challenge doesn’t stop there. To be licensed, the most important piece of the puzzle is that you have to capture your own immature hawk and train it to be yours during a two-year apprenticeship.
Going to Mongolia brought the true experience to life while satisfying her yearning to learn about indigenous cultures, not unlike what she studied for her cultural anthropology degree at University of Michigan.
Two of Hanna’s companions on her trip made a short video of their collective experience. It really gives you the essence of what it was like being among nomads in the middle of nowhere with no running water, no toilet, very limited electricity, and no cell-phone service. The only source of heat was a yak manure-burning stove in the middle of the tent. It was either insufferably hot or freezing cold. Obviously, this adventure is not for the faint of heart!
As shown in the video, the nomads live in gers (Kazakh for yurt), lined with traditional hand-embroidered tapestries. These tents can be collapsed and relocated in 30 minutes. The residents basically have a winter camp and summer camp. Life is very harsh, yet simple. Can you just imagine not having the Internet ever? It’s all about survival. Their domesticated animals are horses, sheep, yak, goats, cattle, and sometimes camels. The nearest town is a three-hour drive away, no roads for most of it.
Less than one percent of Mongolian land is used for agriculture, due to the country’s harsh winters, expansive deserts and steppes, lack of precipitation, and high altitude. The food is very meat focused: meat, dairy products, and fat are the mainstays of the Mongolian diet. Hanna says that at most meals, there would be a huge platter of yak butter. People scooped it up and ate it. I’ll pass, thank you!
A few crops are grown, mostly root vegetables. The food is very simply seasoned with just salt. Attention all foodies: this does not seem like a good destination if you’re seeking a three-star Michelin restaurant!
I gave a lot of thought as to what recipe to present today. Basically, I find the culinary aspects of this culture, dare I say, lacking? The Mongolian Beef dish that we see in Chinese restaurants is not Mongolian at all. It is a classic preparation from Taiwan. I decided not to go there.
Instead, I’ve created a very basic one-pot dish, as most of the cooking is done that way. In the encampment, the noodles are always made from scratch, just flour and water. I’ve decided to use a store-bought convenience instead. Also, since seasoning is almost nonexistent In Mongolia, I’ve taken creative license to make it palatable if not downright tasty. Feel free to exchange beef in place of the lamb and add vegetables of your choosing.
Let us know at The Insider about your own global adventure fantasy. If you decide to go hunting with eagles in Mongolia, don’t forget to dress warm and pack some energy bars!
Mongolian Lamb Stew
Yield: 6 servings
3-4 tbsp. vegetable oil for cooking
1 1/2 lb. lamb stew meat, cut into 1” pieces
1/4 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 lg. onion, cut into medium dice
12 oz. carrots, peeled and cut into 1” pieces
6 c. water
1/2 medium cabbage, sliced into 1/4” thick pieces
8 oz. Yukon gold or white potato, peeled, cut into 1” chunks
6 oz. fettuccine or pappardelle noodles, broken in half or packaged as nests
Toss the lamb stew meat, flour, salt and pepper together in a bowl. Heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large Dutch oven over moderately high heat. When oil is hot, add half of the meat. Toss around the pan; cook until browned. Transfer to a clean bowl. Add more oil to the pot if needed. Cook the remaining meat in the same fashion. Transfer to bowl.
Turn heat down to medium. Add the onions and carrots. Cook until browned, stirring occasionally, about 10-12 minutes. Return meat to the pot. Pour on the water. Scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Increase heat to high, bringing to a boil. Turn down to a very light boil. Cook uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Add more water if necessary.
Mix in the cabbage and potatoes. Cover; cook for 15 minutes. Place the noodles on top of the stew. Ladle some gravy over the noodles. Cover; cook 15 minutes more or until the noodles are tender. Stir everything together. Adjust the seasoning.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.