Well, I knew this day would eventually come, but there’s just no preparing for it; the day every Mongolia PCV dreads: the day you’re forced to eat a sheep. And not just mutton—I mean the whole friggin’ sheep: intestines filled with blood to make blood sausage, the stomach, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, tons of fat, and pretty much any part of the sheep that’s even remotely edible.
Let me back up a bit. Several days earlier, I noticed that there was a sheep in our hashaa. Now, my family only owns cows, so I wondered where this sheep came from, or if it had wandered in by mistake. Later that day I walked by the sheep again with my host sister, and asked her what it was doing there. I guess she thought I was asking how to say “sheep” in Mongolian, because she just kept repeating the word “hoin.” Then the next couple days, I noticed the sheep was making some weird noises, laying down a lot, and just generally seeming to be miserable (not that I’m an expert on sheep well-being). The next day as I was walking through the hashaa with my host dad and sister, we passed the sheep, which was lying against the fence. My dad said, nonchalantly, “Sheep dead,” and my sister told me it had been sick. Well, that explains why it was so miserable, but not why we had a sick sheep to begin with. And the very next day was when we ate sheep for dinner. So not only did I eat sheep guts, but I ate the guts of a sheep that had some kind of sickness! Goody! It’s been several weeks and I’m still alive, but seriously?!
My host grandma is apparently the master sheep-gut-cooker in our family. When I came into the ger that night, she had bowls of intestines and blood lying around, a giant pot on the stove filled with boiled sheep parts, and her hands and arms were covered with sheep blood. When it was finally time to eat and everyone came into the ger, they first gave me a slice of liver with a hunk of fat on it. Then they gave me some blood sausage, and bits and pieces of all the other organs, staring at me the whole time to see how I reacted. I tried at least one bite of everything they gave me, but it was pretty much all fairly disgusting. The textures were just so weird, and since it’s all just boiled in water, it literally just tastes like warm guts with no flavoring. The stomach was probably the worst part, just because it’s impossible to chew so you just have to eventually swallow it whole. The heart was probably my favorite part, in the sense that it was the least disgusting. I don’t know how everyone else can eat it, but they do, and they seem to love it.
I’ve had sheep guts one other time since then, and then we had the leftovers in buuz for dinner the next day. I was also given 3 huge chunks of aaruul, which I still cannot stomach. I find it hard to believe that anyone can actually think that stuff tastes good, but everyone else was chopping into it like a chocolate bar, so I guess it’s just an acquired taste. I felt bad because my host mom told me her mom (the grandma) made the aaruul, and of course she was sitting right there, so I managed to shovel in most of one of the pieces. Then my host mom offered me some Mongolian yogurt, which I gladly accepted so I could have an excuse to put the aaruul down. The grandmother also makes the yogurt, so I was glad that I at least like that (mix in a couple spoonfuls of sugar and it’s really quite good) so I could eat it in front of her and tell her how much I like it (without having to lie).
And then on one other occasion we’ve had sheep head for dinner. It was seriously a bowl of 5 or 6 boiled sheep heads. They tried to get me to eat the tongue, which I gave up after one bite, until they brought some normal food out. But again, they apparently love the stuff (the skulls were picked dry by the time they were done).