Nonnette C. Bennett
Mongolian barbecue only fails when the person who chooses the ingredients and the condiments doesn’t know their favorite flavors. Of all cuisines, this one has you as the master chef.
I have been a fan of Mongolian barbecue since the late 80s. I learned from a friend that the Ritz Hotel offered this and I had to try it and compare it to three other places that had it. Of course, the original place was O’ Mai Khan but of late, it hasn’t opened its Mongolian bar due to the pandemic. To those who are not familiar with this food adventure, let’s take a tour.
Vegetables are the first to be selected. At Ritz Hotel they include watercress, beans, cabbage, sweet turnips, petchay, sayote, sweet peas, young corn, bean sprouts, cauliflower, bell pepper, tomatoes, onions, and onion leeks.
There is tofu and sotanghon, too. My preferences are watercress for its bite, sweet turnips for the crunch, sayote for its sweetness, sweet peas or chicharo for its crispiness, bean sprouts for fiber, bell pepper for the scent, onions because you need it to flavor the food and onion leeks because it gives vegetables a nice texture. I like tofu but not sotanghon.
At the meats section, there are fish, beef, pork liver, hotdog, pork fat, squid balls, and chicken. I often have chicken, pork liver, and pork fat. My logic is my body needs the iron in liver, fat in the pork, and tender meat of the chicken. I like sinful combinations. On other days, beef alone is fine paired off with the tofu.
Then, the condiments are what will make everything you have in the bowl taste the way you like your food prepared. Do you like your food salty sweet like I do? Or do you like it salty and spicy? What about sweet and spicy? This is where the following ingredients play an important role: Kikkoman soy sauce, hoisin, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, barbecue sauce, and fish sauce are your salty condiments. There is green curry for the Indian flavor and chili oil for spiciness. Then you have garlic for a strong flavor and ginger and garlic water that subdue the fishiness or bloodiness of meats. There are the sweet condiments like sugar, sugar syrup, and pineapple crushed to blend in the vegetables and meat. Salt and pepper are available too for those who are not too fond of a Chinese or Asian flavor to food. There is sesame oil to add, vinegar and peanuts too. So, there you have it. An array of flavors to make your kind of food savory.
So, my first bowl had pork fat, chicken, pork liver, watercress, chicharo, turnips, sayote, bell pepper, onion, beans, bean sprouts, onion leeks, tofu, Kikkoman, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fish sauce, pineapple crushed, peanuts, chili oil, and garlic.
This is a salty sweet and spicy combination that made my meal. I like the pineapple sweetness in my food because of the fiber. A little vinegar will put in a sour to this mixture too on days that I feel like it. They stir-fry this bowl of meat and veggies in a wok. I am happy to have a little sauce in this bowl because of the natural juice from the vegetables. I did not want to have a bowl of rice with my meal but one can ask for it.
My second bowl was a green curry flavored mix of beef, squid balls, watercress, sayote, cauliflower, young corn, petchay, bean sprouts, tofu, bell pepper, onion leeks, onions, soy sauce, oyster sauce, ginger water, garlic, mushroom, sesame oil, and sugar. I added ginger water because the flavor of curry is enhanced by ginger and garlic. This dish had a salty sweet curry flavor for me. I guess I am a regular Pinoy who likes sweetness in my food.
There you have it. Mongolian barbecue is really a personal touch to your bowl of vegetables and meat. If it fails to suit your taste, you don’t know your condiments and how to make them blend into your favorite meal. I missed out on saying that you must clean up all your bowls of food because there are no leftovers allowed in the Mongolian grill. You can’t share bowls too. Maybe taste a little. You get charged double if you can’t eat everything you put in your bowl because you’re supposed to go back as many times as you want. Mongolian barbecue is eat – all- you can between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Ritz Hotel.
Nonnette C. Bennett