I went out to dinner with some friends last night. After two years of living in a small village in Alaska without a restaurant I am always find the ability to go out just a little more exciting that I should. There are a surprising amount of places to eat here. I am not a huge fan of traditional Mongolian food. It isn't bad and I am going to try as much as I can while I am here but for everyday it is not my thing. It is just a tad heavy and meat based. However there are a ton of restaurants about the city and if you know where to go you can find some really good food for whatever your mood.
So a Ukrainian, a Korean, a Canadian and an American walk into a hotpot restaurant… No, that was not the start of a tasteless ethnic joke that was my group and I last night. Why do I find that so entertaining? Anyhow, we went to a hotpot restaurant, called “The Bull”. If you have n ever been to a restaurant like this I will tell you the basic idea. You get a pot of broth that is heated and them a huge basket of veggies, noodles and meat that you cook in the pot. Kind of like a Korean version of a fondue place. I have been missing vegetables. They are either really expensive or half rotted. There aren't any frozen vegetables and very few canned ones so I have been feeling a bit deprived. I think that it has been my favorite place to eat so far in Mongolia.
Service in Mongolia and in Mongolian restaurants in particular is sort of, well lets just say it isn’t at the same level as North America… Chasing down the waitress to get anything is the just the norm. I have a feeling that when I get to New York again I am going to find the constant asking if I need something else very strange. I was thinking about the fact that when I am out and about in Ulaanbaatar I usually have no clue what the people are around me are saying. I don’t have to block out people conversations at all. Eventually, if you don’t use that skill do you forget how? I picture myself being out in public in the US and freaking out because I can’t block out all of the conversations all around me and it drives me slowly insane!
We went down the street a bit to another place for dessert. I think that people forget sometimes that this is a city with a whole lot going on in it. UB at night looks so different than during the day. Anyway, chocolate cake is not improved by the addition of cigarette smoke. Non smoking restaurants are something that I miss. My friends Katarina, who smokes says that some of them are just too much for her. Asian cigarettes are unpleasant. Speaking of smoke it is cold here. It has been hovering around zero for the last week. That of course means that the ger smoke has also been pretty strong this week. The gers are heated with coal stoves and since about two thirds of the population of the city lives in gers the pollution is pretty incredible. Beijing of course has worse pollution, as does Seoul and most cities in the Philippines but the coal smoke is more noticeable that industrial pollution because it stings the throat and nose and makes that air taste bad. The coal that is used here is probably not all that refined and so there is a whole lot of sulpher in the air. I have never lived somewhere that has a pollution problem before so this has been a learning experience. Maybe after awhile your body sort of gets used to it and it become part of the background. You know there but not noticed.
So that was my night out. Tomorrow I have the day off. Mongolian Independence Day. I am going to the wreathing palace to see Mongolian wrestling in action. You bet you will be hearing about that.