After Wednesday night’s festivities on the grasslands, I wasn’t sure that anything could top our bonfire / singing / storytelling experience. However, Thursday proved to be equally eye-opening, with more hands-on activities and more unique perspectives on local life.
We began the morning with a Naadam Festival demonstration by the local nomadic men, as the real games begin in mid-July. As I discussed in a previous blog post, Naadam, which literally means “games” in Mongolian, is a summertime event comprised of traditional Mongolian wrestling, archery, and horse racing.
To begin, a group of ten riders raced at lightning speed along the grasslands, displaying their incredible horsemanship skills. Later, we witnessed a Mongolian wrestling competition, in which the goal is to get an opponent’s body part (other than his feet) to touch the ground. Our guests delighted when they were handed the uniform to take part! Slowly but surely, a few pairs donned traditional garb to challenge one another to friendly matches in true Mongolian style.
Our hands-on day didn’t stop there. For lunch, we drove another 30 minutes to a smaller yurt community that was managed by a single family. There, in a larger yurt, we sat around tables learning how to make Mongolian dumplings. Helping our guests manipulate the dumpling dough to create the perfect shape was a fun challenge. While some found it to be an easier task than others, the process was enjoyed by all.
The homemade lunch on which we dined from the local family was incredible. Before we even began eating, I felt so lucky that this family had invited the guides and drivers into their own dining room for this lunch. It was one thing to eat their freshly-prepared food, but another to consume it where they usually have their own meals.
As for the food itself, the freshest eggs and lamb graced our table, and made even the most standard of Chinese dishes – such as egg and tomato – that much more delicious. Potato noodles, lamb stew, lamb dumplings, bitter melon, and other local specialties graced our table that afternoon. This meal reaffirmed for me that Chinese home cooking is truly the best in China. Regional classics with a family touch, in my experience, has a taste that no restaurant can replicate.
On our second-to-last day in Inner Mongolia, as I sat with my fellow guides and drivers, I felt like a part of a Chinese family at an intimate home gathering.