Food so far

As you advance into east, quality of food becomes better and better. Russian food was pretty much crap. Russian cuisine can be excellent, if you go a fancy restaurant, but when it comes to eating out in cheap places, food tends to be pretty bland and tasteless. Potatoes, pasta, processed meat, little to no spices and bland salads. Bleh. Food in Buryatia was even worse, a poor parody of both Mongolian and Russian cuisine. As one of the locals described the differences between Russian and Buryatian cuisines: when a Russian makes a soup, they put meat, potatoes and onions. In case of Buryats, it is just meat. All in all, a pretty grim picture.

Mongolia was not any better. Meat and pasta – these two words pretty much sum up Mongolian cuisine. Ulaan Baatar offered some variety, but in countryside these two ingredients were the staple of Mongolian diet. Oh, and spices are virtually unknown to Mongols, as well as vegetables and fruits. Thanks goodness for ubiquitous Korean restaurants around Ulaan Baatar. Otherwise, it would be very bleak.

Chinese cuisine, on the other hand, is marvelous. Very greasy, weird at times, pretty much meat based, but the flavour is excellent. Needless to say that the food here is very different to Chinese food you get in Finland and only at a fraction of the price. I tend to overeat here, because everything is just so damn good and there are so many things to try. When it comes to meat, Chinese use the whole animal, not only juicy parts. Head, feet, skin, intestines – all parts are put into use. For example, when you order Bei Jing duck, you get filet as the filling for pancakes and the rest of the duck (including the head) in form of a soup. Or another example, fish heads are considered a delicacy and cost more than the actual fish meat. Go figure. As for weird things, I had a chance to taste scorpions (both small brown ones and huge black ones), sea-horses, snakes (meat and skin), bird’s nests and roaches of unknown origin. Apart from small scorpions, the rest was not very tasty, but not bad either. What I learnt from this experience, you can eat anything as long as it is deep-fried and sprinkled with chili. However, these snacks are rather a novelty and tourist attraction and not a part of daily local diet. On the other hand, a millennium egg, a transparent black ill-looking egg is a) a part of traditional cuisine b) extremely weird c) actually very good. Looks disgusting, but is very tasty, especially with soy sauce and ginger on top. Yum.

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