Introduction and History
Centuries ago, in the province of Mongolia, the mighty Khan's hunting parties and warriors would prepare slivers of meat cut with the sword edge. Together with a special combination of vegetables, incense, spices and sauces they would grill their meats on upturned shields over a roaring fire. Kublai Khan and his fiercest warriors would sit high above the hordes and enjoy the same style food prepared for him on a large, roaring hot griddle. It is with these ancient traditions in mind that we bring you one of the world's least known but most original dining experiences. Mongolian Restaurant
On a recent Friday eve-ning, my excursion to the newly-opened "Mongolian Restaurant" turned out to be quite an adventure, though not quite the kind I had expected.
Though the restaurant is only a five-minute walk from the National Palace of Culture, I spent at least 15 minutes searching Vitosha Boulevard for the small, hidden restaurant. The unique interior design was surprising: a wide corridor, able to accommodate about 20 people, enclosed two walls of a central, approximated 80 sq m square room which housed the bar and several more tables. The decor was pleasant, the khaki clothed chairs and matching tablecloths perfectly complimented the fall-colored scheme of the restaurant.
A couple minutes after we had arrived, a server approached us, motioning for us to sit down. When I attempted, in my rudimentary Bulgarian, to ask for an English menu, a look of fear crossed her face. There was no translated menu, and her own English was minimal, though she offered to send another waitress who knew some English. Fortunately, one of my dinner companions was Bulgarian and offered to help us comprehend the menu. We decided to sit in the outer room in order to get away from the blaring music in the bar. Fortunately, the server was able to close the door to the inner room, softening the volume of the Punjabi-Hindi remixes and Brittney Spears's Toxic.
We received two menus. The main menu offered all of the typical Bulgarian food one could obtain at any restaurant in Sofia (moderately priced). A second teal paper pamphlet contained a sparse list of specialty Mongolian dishes. Actually, there was only one option: a combination salad and stir- fry for 5.50 leva (four leva for children); a vegetarian version was 3.50 leva, while a salad alone was three leva. The rest of the pamphlet was filled with the bar's hard alcohol offerings. We were confused and disappointed, because our initial interest in the restaurant was based on its supposed offering of Mongolian food. My friend asked the server what part of the menu was truly Mongolian. Shrugging, she pointed to a vegetable bar on the other side of the corridor. She told us that we were supposed to tell her which "toppings" (vegetables and meat included) we wanted, and the chef would stir-fry it using a "Mongolian" technique. She explained that it was really, more or less, like Chinese food.
Mongolian barbeque is internationally famous for a unique cooking technique: customers choose from a variety of vegetables and meats, choosing the serving size and amount of spice preferred. The restaurant's owner was inspired by a Mongolian Restaurant he had visited during a trip to the United States and to open a similar restaurant here in Sofia. This simple menu was designed with assistance from the Mongolian Embassy, and the owner soon hopes to hire an experienced Mongolian chef. Sadly, I predict that the restaurant may not last that long. A salad, consisting especially of cucumbers, tomatoes, and feta, was shortly followed by the stir-fried main dish. Our three orders, though containing combinations of vegetables and meat that suited our individual preferences, tasted surprisingly similar.
Having grown up in Seattle, a city filled with a wide variety of Asian restaurants, I tend to be a bit of an Asian food snob. The "Mongolian stir-fry technique" used...
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