Off we go to the market for horse meat, vegetables, and supplies for our trip to Gobi! The three of us, my driver Dasha, his 16-year-old daughter, Binderya, and I walk from the apartment complex where I’m staying with Dasha’s dad. We cross the busy 4-lane road to a huge market. I’ve been in the apartment for 3 days, and had no idea that this market existed just across the street– yet another detriment due to my inability to read Mongolian signs. Illiteracy is tough!
It’s a bright sunny morning and we pass through a parking lot where people are hefting boxes of goods into their cars, similar to a Costco or Walmart parking lot. My eyes adjust as we enter the dimly lit market building.
This blog post has no photos of the market, because I was sternly and correctly instructed by Dasha to leave my camera and smartphone in the apartment due to the prevalence of pick-pockets. Read the next blogpost, when a pickpocket strikes!
In the Market
Inside, the market building is divided in half. Food is to the left and non-food is to the right. Each of the sections is full of vendors stalls about 15 feet wide, and all the walls and stalls are painted stark white. The building isn’t very crowded, but I can imagine it gets packed with customers during rush hour. Each stall has a long waist-high shelf across the front and the 3 sides within the stall have many shelves full of whatever that stall is selling– pasta, condiments, soap.
The rice vendor doesn’t have inside shelves, and instead just stacks of big bags of rice. The vendor sits inside the stall, and customers walk in the wide aisles. We can touch whatever is on the front table, but we have to point and ask for anything else.
Choosing Our Horse Meat
Towards the front of the food section there are a couple of meat stalls and Dasha asks me how much meat I want. I have absolutely no idea. Laid out on the butchers table are huge hunks of legs or body parts of pig, horse, and maybe some other animals. Want a leg of horse? Sure, bone in or out? At home I might buy raw meat like this once a year, if that. I’m just not familiar with quantities, or the types of meat. Is horse meat even available in the U.S.?
Honestly, I have no idea what to buy, nor how much of anything to buy. I understand that we will camp out, but in a week of travel, won’t we pass through some places where we could purchase more food if needed. Normally, when camping I live off of cheese sandwiches or other things that don’t require cooking. Also, if we’re sharing food, shouldn’t we just buy 3 person’s worth of whatever Dasha wants? I mean, I’ll eat pretty much anything, and there’s no reason to cook something different just for me. Right?
I’m feeling pretty confused. I wish I could tell Dasha that I will happily let him make the food decisions, and just tell me how much to pay. I actually buy a few things and pay for them myself, just so he knows that I’m willing to pay.
Wandering in the Market
Once I feel comfortable in this Ulaanbaatar market, i.e., that I won’t get lost if I’m more than 10 feet away from Dasha, I wander over to the non-food section. I look around to see if there’s anything I want. Not really. I don’t need a massive bottle of shampoo. Then I see the toilet paper. There must be 20 different brands, sold in packs varying from 4 to 20 rolls.
Returning to the food section, I find Dasha with a lot of bags of food stuff and ask if we should get a roll of toilet paper. We do need a roll, so together we go get it. I don’t want to get a crappy brand, or an overpriced brand, so am hesitant to buy it myself.
I’m glad Dasha takes the food shopping upon himself and buys a lot of veggies, noodles, sausage, bread, and fresh horse meat. I don’t know what else he’s bought, but I’m sure it’ll taste great whenever it’s time to eat. Don’t we need mustard? Dasha doesn’t know what mustard is when I tell him in English, but I think I saw a small bottle at a stall earlier—what else would be inside of a yellow squeeze bottle?
I know approximately where the stall is, but have can’t quite recall where, and wander up and down a few aisles searching. We do find another stall with mustard, but their container is huge. No need for that much mustard! 5 minutes later, I’ve found the small squeeze bottle of mustard again. Bought!
Next Chapter: Fortunes & Family
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