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Wining On: How Mongols barbecue

My chicken and pork gets sizzling, on the right.

This week, in fact in just 24 hours, I’ve shovelled some foods of eastern origin down my gannet, by which I do not mean I pulled up at a bench on the Costanera to tuck into a vacíopan sandwich. Although I did have one of those from the Carlos Calvo hole-in-the-wall last Saturday night…

In fact, there’s a quick gag I need to slip in, which isn’t mine, but it absolutely needs sharing. With veggie British mate Vicky and her mate Dave, who is in town for a few weeks, we had gone to a birthday barbecue, but turned up too late for the steak and left just as they were slapping homemade burgers on the grill.

Starving, we needed some grub before a swift jar of red beer at that public house away from homes, the Gibraltar. I ordered vacíopan, or skirt steak sarnies, times two for me and Dave. Vicky ordered empty bread (pan vacío), which they didn’t charge her for, despite using up a fair whack of their ketchup.
Anyway. That was the gag.

My two eastern lunches involved some interesting flavours, and one more so than the other.
Sudestada has only once been the focus of my attention when I went on a lunch date and had to pay for myself. I think I had a hot curry of some description, and it was fine. The date wasn’t.

I was so hot last Tuesday I was almost certain was going to catch fire, and when the options were organic or south-east Asian, I chose the latter as I was familiar with the restaurant’s aesthetics. AC isn’t particularly PC in terms of free-range eating and thinking, is it? And it turns out last Tuesday broke another energy record, it was so steamy.

Handed a long thin paper menu and hole-puncher to indicate my choice, the lunch menu, which includes a starter, main and drink, costs a reasonable 42 pesos. It was as busy as hell in there, and we took a kitchen-side table.

Choosing the salad with peanut sauce over the chicken and vegetable soup, it was a wise option as the bowl was half-full, or half-empty, depending on your philosophy. I’d have demanded a top-up.

We both opted for Ca Sot, stir-fried fish with basil and vegetables. It was fairly forgettable, had an okay flavour, not much basil, very sticky rice, and I can tell you the fish was white. My highlight, apart from the company and conversation, was the Thai lemo gingery lemonade. It was the equivalent to an oxygen tank in terms of resuscitation.

Wednesday took me to what I consider to be a No Man’s Land — is it Barrio Norte? Is it Recoleta? I never know where I am that end of Santa Fe, but no matter, right next door was the rather fabulous looking Cupcake Store. That was dessert sorted then.

Despite its flyers saying it serves “fresh food and coffee” in English, a curious relief nonetheless, Gengis’s House is in fact a Mongolian grill-style restaurant. A new concept to me, this eating fad hit Taiwan, not Mongolia, back in the 1970s, and has about as much to do with barbecues as the aforementioned Vicky cares to have.

The deal is this: take a bowl, choose some meat(s), fill it up with any number of 17 raw ingredients, then watch the chef stir-fry it up with noodles before your eyes on a large griddle. Fresh, and selected by me. I loved it.

With chicken, pork and beef (referred to as res on the menu, a word I have almost never heard of to describe beef), venison is also on the menu although it costs an extra 15 pesos to the 39-peso bowl. Add a glass of homemade lemonade for just one peso.

A helpful suggestions list of what ingredients blend nicely with each meat hanging above the painted flames on the wall was redundant to me: I turned my bowl into a mountain, pulling out pork and chicken strips, onion, spring onion, spinach, cabbage, sweetcorn and mushrooms from their respective holders and shovelling them into it.

Then, it was time to start sizzling and smoking. The grill is large enough for the President to land her helicopter on: circular and flat, it fizzes violently when the chef and co-owner, who worked in a Mongolian grill-style restaurant for 10 years in the US, pours on water and oil, prepping it for the bowl’s ingredients as well as a generous helping of noodles.

This is lunch with a sizzling show thrown in. I was glued to my ringside seat, watching the griller use his giant chopsticks to flip-fry my lunch around the griddle. The chef then advised me to take the ginger sauce to my table and slather my bowl with sesame seeds. I obeyed. His chopsticks were longer than mine.

Sudestada
Guatemala 5602, Palermo Viejo
Tel: 4776-3777

Gengis’s House
Riobamba 1179, Recoleta
Tel: 4815-2333

Published in the Buenos Aires Herald on February 12, 2012
Photo by me.
Also check out my lunch partner’s review of Gengis’s House here.

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