Nomadic horsemen, boiled marmot, and tyrannosaurus trout in the land of Chinggis Khan.
Story and photography by Ryan T. Bell
Tsogt, the head wrangler for a Fish Mongolia expedition, fords the Uur River with a packhorse.
Custom rules that inside a Mongolian ger (yurt tent), a guest should walk clockwise around the circular interior and take a seat on the floor opposite their host. They’ll serve you a cup of salted milk tea, which tastes like French fries dipped in yogurt – slurp the drink loudly in appreciation. And if it happens to be mealtime, be prepared to eat whatever food is presented you, even if it’s the boiled head of a marmot.
The rodent’s buckteeth stared at me with an expression of horror, like it had been boiled alive. The family of Mongolian nomads watched my next move, but there was no winning. Eat it, and I risked the gag reflex; balk, and I would insult them, or worse, forfeit my one chance at sustenance for the day. I turned the marmot skull broadside, like corn on the cob, and bit into the cheek. My teeth raked against the mandible, shearing a flap of meat loose that I chewed furiously and swallowed, chasing it with a slurp of milk tea to wash down the tangy flavor. This was not the Mongolian experience I’d imagined.