Monday Meal Review: Mongolia

Western Mongolia. Photo by tiarescott.


This week my brain is stuck on Mongolian nomads. I am obsessed.

While I sip my hot, salty tea I think of their fierce loyalty in brutal winters.

While I nibble the tangy carrot slaw, I imagine how hard it must be to move five times a year – so often that you cannot keep a veggie patch. So often that even a basic carrot salad would be a major treat, normally reserved for city folk.

I take so much for granted.

But what really hit home is how these nomads (who live so many places) are never homeless.

Never alone.

When something (good or bad) happens in their lives, nomads from other Gers (the portable homes they live in) show up to help. They come out of nowhere, from miles away.

From over the hills.

Through the vast emptiness.

And they chip in to help however they can.

While it can seem like each family unit is isolated in nothing but a giant expanse of blue sky and crusty grass, nothing could be farther than the truth. These are real neighbors. Friends. Family.

Flaming Cliffs, Gobi Desert (Mongolia). Photo by Zoharby.

In comparison, I, who have lived the same place for the last 7 years (during which time the nomads would have moved some 35 times), should have nothing to complain about.

But here’s the thing.

Even in my static address I often feel homeless. Without family. Aside from a few pleasantries, I don’t even know my neighbors very well.

This is the side effect of living in a global community, where families separate and move on a constant basis.

Where everyone can do what they want.

My three siblings, my mom and I all live in different states. That would make 5 houses to navigate during the holidays, except for the fact that Keith’s family has to factor into the equation as well.

It’s complicated, to say the least.

This has been bothering me for the better part of two years now.


It all started way back when I found myself alone at the hospital with Keith, not knowing if he was going to live or die.  He was hooked up to all sorts of sensors. He couldn’t even stand to take a shower without losing breath. I was terrified.

I fell apart under the pressure and, because I had no family in town (his son was stuck at work and I couldn’t get through to the friends I did try to call), there was no one there to pick up the pieces. No one to cuddle Ava while I cried.

Or so I thought.

When I told people about it, they all said “You should have just asked. We would have helped.”

Why is this so hard? Why is it so hard to reach out and ask for help?

Whether we keep our problems to ourselves or pretend like everything is “just fine,” the end result is the same: we become isolated.

And life is 100,000,000 times harder.

But I learned something this week.

The Mongolians aren’t afraid to send out the call.

They beckon from over the hills and through the emptiness. And, somehow, amazingly, people show up.

Could this work here in Oklahoma, half a world away?

Maybe if we let down our guards enough to beckon, we might be pleasantly surprised at who would show up from over the hills.

For the first time in two years, I feel like I get it.

To create the feeling of “home” in our highly mobilized society, we must lay down some roots. But instead of tethering ourselves to the earth, these roots must connect to people.

It’s understood in Mongolian culture: in this vast unknown we call life, we need each other.

So here’s to building good roots, wherever we may wander.

Mongolian horse racing on the steppe. Photo by Naadam.


Mongolian Millet & Green Milk Tea (Suutei Tsai) [Recipe]

What I liked most about this drink:

Everything I read claims that westerners have trouble enjoying this drink, but I find if you go into it expecting the drink to taste more like hot, milky cereal you’ll be alright. It was another one of those dishes that I dragged my feet on sharing with Keith and Ava. I was totally afraid of rejection on this one.. thankfully I built it up more in my head than what it was in reality. Ava didn’t seem to notice the “odd taste”, probably because she doesn’t have expectations yet.

What I liked least about this drink:

The key to this drink is to avoid boiling the green tea (this will make it bitter). I find that, if you add a hefty amount of salt, the drink actually becomes more enjoyable.

Mongolian Carrot Salad [Recipe]

What I liked most about this dish:

Ohhh, for someone who doesn’t like raw carrots a whole bunch (me!), I can’t believe how much I’ve been craving this salad ever since I made it for this meal. While strange sounding, the contrast between the garlic and sweet raisins is just right. We shared it with friends who were to be married the next day. So fun and festive! Ava ate a little and Mr Picky ate more. I have a feeling this beautiful, brilliant orange will make many appearances on our dining table from here on out.

What I liked least about this dish:

I am probably in the minority, but I could have used more dressing on this salad (then again, I’m known for blasting away my family with strong vinaigrette. It’s always a good idea to start off light and add more as needed. If you let the salad sit for several hours in the fridge you will most likely need to reseason it with salt (if not more dressing).

Ava’s Corner


  1. Jessica Bennett says

    So, does Josh Woodward have 195ish songs or will we get repeats? 🙂

    • Sasha Martin says

      ha. I’ll leave that one to Mr. Picky to answer 🙂

    • I don’t think Josh has quite 195 songs on his site but we still might make it to the end with him since I used others in the beginning. Funny you mentioned his music this week. He and I had an email exchange today and he mentioned something about having an Ethiopian and Korean cookbook on his desk and an adventurous 3 year old at his table. Maybe he’ll join the Adventure.

      • Jessica Bennett says

        He should join in the fun! Adventurous 3 year olds can use help staying adventurous.

  2. Collette Lemons says

    I hope you know that you can always call me and I will come and if I don’t answer then call Cliff – he always has his phone and always knows where to find me. I will come running. You are always a part of us and we will always care what is going on with you.

    I know what you mean about asking for help. I am the worlds worst about asking because I hate to inconvenience anyone just for my little problems, lol.

    I can’t wait to see you later today. You are right, it has been way too long. where does time go?

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thanks, Collette! I think what you say about inconvenience is absolutely what my problem is – I always find my brain saying “I don’t want to bother anyone” … I think more people feel this isolation than just us… Maybe the idea of being “strong and independent” backfires at some level. It’s nice to lean on each other once in a while. And I think Mongolians know that *sometimes* it’s not just nice, it’s necessary. You know?

      Anyway, looking forward to seeing you as well. It will be great to catch up. 🙂

  3. Ruby says

    Don’t forget, me too! Ever since that day fate crossed our paths will be there for you, even if
    am on the otherside of the world :). But really am in your neighborhood and awake late. Yes
    its those real connections and just even the thought that there is somebody we could always
    count on is important in life. No man is an island. In life we will need somebody at some point.
    Maybe can come over for another country before I go away for Summer, now I can happily
    say I have been a part of 3 of them :).

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thanks Ruby! It’s always good to know a night owl 🙂

  4. Tina says

    You know what bothers us more than you calling in the middle of the night? Finding out the next morning or the next week that you felt alone and didn’t call!

  5. Megan says

    You can always count on us too! I have finally started to inch out of my comfort zone and ask for help, truly amazing how many people are willing to help out when needed!

    • Sasha Martin says

      It really is about that comfort zone (and for me an imagined taboo, I think, of simply admitting I need help)

  6. Everyone has trouble asking for help when then need it. You’re not the only one.
    The best people to surround yourself with are the ones that will offer help before you have to ask them for it. And it’s best to be one of those people too.

    • Sasha Martin says

      You are so right. I remember some great advice I read somewhere about never saying “let me know if you need anything”, instead say “I’m going to make you some chicken, can I drop it by today or would tomorrow be better” (just for example). What a difference that makes (taking the burden off the recipient).

  7. Lori says

    Love your blog!

    If you can get a hold of the dvd, watch Cave of the Yellow Dog. It’s a wonderful sweet story set in Mongolia. The story of the Weeping Camel is also set in Mongolia. Both these movies will give you a sense of place, of the nomadic culture. :O)

    Although it’s not set in Mongolia but neighboring Tuva, Genghis Blues is a great story. :O)

    • Sasha Martin says

      Thank you Lori. I’m going to look those movies up… and I love that name “weeping camel”

  8. What you write is so true, we sometimes feel so lost, even in a big city. We need to learn to ask for help. We are afraid to show our weaknesses, but we all have them. It love that Global Table Adventure teaches us so much more than just recipes. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sasha Martin says

      Yes, sometimes the biggest cities create the worst kind of loneliness… you somehow begin to think that, with so much going on, life *should* be grand, so it hurts that much more when it doesn’t live up to the expectations. (and thanks – the longer I cook the world, the more of these big topics/questions come up for me… it’s really fantastic how much we can learn from cultures all over the planet).

  9. Keith says

    Nice entry! Build roots wherever you are! You can’t have too many roots!
    Perfect analogy Mongolian nomads and human isolation. 🙂

  10. Pingback: Global Table Adventure | Monday Meal Review: Palau

  11. Sherry says

    I really enjoyed this post! My husband just returned from a month in Mongolia. He was able to spend a week in a Ger, living in the beautiful countryside. The pictures he brought home are absolutely breathtaking. I am planning on adding these recipes to our menu soon. Thanks for all of these beautiful posts. I look forward to them every week. 🙂

  12. I just read your book. It’s wonderful. I followed the blog for a while as you were writing it, and then I was a latecomer to read your book. Thanks for your vulnerability, both in the book and on the blog.

    I just moved to Europe after living in Mongolia for three years, and I’m glad you made the milk tea. It was hard for me to like milk tea at first, but now I miss it and it doesn’t taste the same outside of Mongolia. The milk isn’t the same.

    Anyway, thanks for doing this and keeping the site up.

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