Mutton and Süütei Tsai (Salty Milk Tea) in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

London -> Harwich -> Hoek of Holland -> Amsterdam (Holland) -> Copenhagen (Denmark) -> Stockholm (Sweden) -> Riga (Latvia) -> Moscow (Russia) -> [Trans-siberian or Trans-mongolian Express] -> Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia)

Locavore, self-sustaining, free-range, and even…organic, might be some adjectives used of Mongolian cuisine if these historical nomads were minded to describe their food in terms understood by the Western city folk.

But the vegetarians, vegans, pescetarians, and other plant-based diet fans for whom these labels are gold would be sorely let-down. Mongolian cuisine consists mostly of meat (with very little seasoning), animal fat, and salty milk (tea).

Exhibit 1:
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Бууз (buuz) in oil-slicked soup.

(An aside. I’d like to trace the history of dumplings in the world. While in Latvia, we had pelmeņi at the self-service weight-priced XL Pelmeni (7 Kalku, Riga):
XL Pelmeni, 7 Kalku, Riga
XL Pelmeni, 7 Kalku, Riga
XL Pelmeni, 7 Kalku, Riga

In Moscow, it was khinkali (Georgian dumpling) at Duhan Chito-Ra (Kazakova Street, 10/2, Moscow 105064):
Duhan Chito-Ra Save Kazakova St., 10/2, Moscow 105064

and also good old-fashioned pelmeni with sour cream:
pelmeni with a side of sour cream

A great idea for cooking meat in bite-sized portions. But who had the idea first and what would the passage of that idea through different geographical areas over time tell us about the exchange of ideas in human history? Curious minds want to know.)

Exhibit 2:

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
More Бууз (buuz – Mongolian dumplings) and сүүтэй цай (süütei tsai – Mongolian salty milk tea).

Exhibit 3:

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
хуушууp (khuushuur) which is basically buuz flattened and deep fried. Yum. We ended up at this shop because Mongolian friends were reminiscing about the Naadam Festival and how the area around the competitions would be full of people frying and selling khuushuur.

Many tourists complain about the food in Mongolia. “Just mutton and more mutton and animal fat,” they grumble.

Should there be a universal standard for taste, or even, what might be considered healthy? How many foodie magazines consider the environment from which different cuisines emerge? How many “scientific” studies consider the impact of environment on the nutrients and calories needed by a person living in that different situation?

The sub-zero temperatures of Mongolia make eating mutton and drinking salty milk tea a great pleasure (and even, a necessity), especially when one is not being driven around in a vehicle with more than adequate heating. Much more so for the nomads cattle-herding on the steppes outside the cities.

“You must drink this,” advised several Mongolians,”It will warm you up.”
“And you must eat the fat of the meat, it will keep you strong.”

For this reason, they were leary of vegetables and fruits, seeing them as pernacious attempts by the Chinese to weaken their constitution.

Oh and by the way, Mongolian barbecues? Not Mongolian. They were popularised in Taiwan in the 1970s and then exported to America, then re-exported (or imported?) to Mongolia! The fable put about was that Mongolian soldiers would gather large quantities of meats and prepare them with their swords on their upturned shields over a large fire.

I just had to partake of this irony, so decided to check out BD’s Mongolian Grill, part of a U.S. chain:
Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia

Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
It cost 5 times as much as a meal in an ordinary Mongolian eatery. The meat was overcooked and, because I did not want to pay for the buffet, not enough for the amount of trekking I was doing. Boo.

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Eating Healthy on a Budget in Singapore

Daily meals have been a bit of a challenge since coming to Singapore. Much food in hawker centres and food courts seems either bland, or too strong-tasting and oily. Would someone who is annoyingly picky, yet on a tight budget like me, be able to survive?

There is no point complaining about the cost of living in Singapore etc. I am excited to attempt eating delicious healthy* meals on S$4-S$5 a day, or about S$150 a month by (i) tweaking my basket of goods; and (ii) shopping around for the best deals, or eating whatever is on discount.

(*in light of all the nutritional theories and dietary trends out there, I’ll simply assume the lowest common denominator – that “healthy” means unprocessed vegetables and fresh meat where possible and a low-percentage of refined sugars)

Don’t know if it will work, but here are some options that I’ll try! Shall update as I go along.

Vegetables

Photograph Zenxin Organic Vegetables by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Zenxin Organics‘ prices seem mostly reasonable (except for, eg, those baby carrots which were an indulgence!) and their products are readily available in Cold Storages around the country.

Zenxin Vegetables on special offer at Cold StorageEven better when you find two packages taped together on special offer – two for the price of one.

Aromatics

In recent years, I’ve found Chinese garlic to have a peculiar ditch-water taste and have had to either go without or stock up when garlic from other countries were on the cheap (a relative term, sadly).

Photograph CondiFrance red garlic from Spain by parentheticalpilgrim on 500pxCold Storage has discounts on older garlic and onions, so scored these CondiFrance garlic bulbs from Spain. Still perfectly servicable.

Meat

Photograph Wagyu beef chuck by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Cold Storage has had pretty good deals on wagyu beef chucks. This MB4-5 was S$2.99/100g and a delight to eat (or to allow to melt in our mouths). The Australian Wagyu Association says:

Wagyu is high in monounsaturated fats and with the ratio of monounsaturated to saturated fats of 2:1. Wagyu beef also contains more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – Omega 6 per gram than any other foodstuff – 30 per cent more than other beef breeds. CLA is a fatty acid with potent anti-carcinogenic properties, as well as being an anti-inflammatory agent.

Wagyu meat on special offer from Cold StorageThe Japanese wagyu was on offer for a slightly pricier S$3.99/100g.

Wholesale meat suppliers to check out:

Fish/Seafood

Photograph Norwegian Salmon, Song Fish, Star Vista, Singapore by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Song Fish (19 Fishery Port Road, also at Chinatown Point and Star Vista) has a good stock of frozen fish and seafood. Sea bass, salmon, cod, mussels, several sorts of scallop, prawns, stingray, octopus tentacles, lobster, crayfish, prepared seafood, and even tubs of lobster bisque and clam chowder.

Photograph Salmon bones, Song Fish, Star Vista, Singapore by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px Photograph Pan-fried salmon bones, organic spinach, red rice by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

I made off with a S$3 bag of “salmon bones” – still loads of flesh on and very good pan-fried with just a bit of soya sauce. Enough for 3-4 meals.

Other wholesalers:

Fassler (46 Woodlands Terrace, and also Tiong Bahru Estate) – salmon, tuna, seafood

Cheese

Photograph discounted supermarket cheese, Singapore by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px
Comte cheese discounted at Cold StorageFor cheese not of the processed cheddar variety (eg. gruyere, comte), check out the expiring stuff at Cold Storage and Jasons.

Wholesale cheese suppliers:

QB Food

Herbs and Sauces

QB Food

Baking Supplies

Photograph Valrhona 55% pellets, from Sun Lik Trading, Seah Street by parentheticalpilgrim on 500px

Sun Lik Trading (33 Seah Street) has a good stock of Valrhona chocolate in various forms. It’s not cheap for chocolate but a reasonable price for quality. One or two of these discs are good as something sweet for finishing off a meal.

Ligueil butter, Phoon Huat, Singapore
Petit Normand, Phoon Huat, SingaporeThe Phoon Huat branch below Buona Vista MRT carries an eclectic range of SPAR Supermarket products (aka. where you got your cheap food when skiing on a student budget in Switzerland) and cheap(er) French butter.

Bob's Red Mill products at Mustafa, Little India
Bob's Red Mill products at Mustafa, Little India
Bob's Red Mill products at Mustafa, Little IndiaMustafa in Little India has a good range of Bob’s Red Mill products. Stone Ground Whole Wheat Pastry Flour (S$3.00), Organic High Fiber Pancake & Waffle Whole Grain Mix (S$3.50).

United Baking Supplies

Others

Other wholesalers, for reference: