Mongolian BBQ is a concept or style in cooking that several chains (reviews of one such chain can be found at fire & ice) and many more family owned restaurants engage in. According to tradition, the Mongolian BBQ traces back to feasts after several days of hunting. Large pavilions would be erected and slivers of meat and vegetables cut with razor sharp swords would be prepared on the backs of shields heated in a fire.

In almost every case, the basics of the restaurant are the same - thinly sliced meat is offered (sometimes frozen - it keeps longer, and anyend suggests it makes it easier to shave thin). Having eaten at several of these establishments, the most common meats are beef, pork, and chicken with the occasional lamb. Please note that when I say thinly I mean thin - about the thickness of 1-3 coldcuts stacked on each other. You, the patron, often places this meat in a bowl - though if you are vegetarian you can opt out of the meat all together. Next to the meat section is a vegetable (and sometimes noodle) section that has celery, water chestnuts, sprouts, brocoli, carrots, onions and other such vegetables. Add these to the bowl as desired. Further on down are the sauces - one or two types of soy sauce (mild and spicy), lobster, curry, a mild BBQ oil, sweet and sour, garlic, and a hot chili paste. Sauce is important as it provides some liquid for the food to cook in.

The bowl of raw food is given to the chef who then pours this assortment on a large wok or teppanyaki (ouroboros notes that stove-top versions of the cooking area exist called a "mongolian grill") and cooks it - cutting up the meat in to smaller pieces so they cook throughly and moving the food around. This is where the sauces are important - if there isn't enough sauce, the chef will add water as necessary. After the food is cooked to satisfaction, the chef would then push it into a new bowl and hand it back.

There will be sticky white rice available somewhere, either at the table upon return or near the chef. Often, the food is a bit better with some additional biomass with it - though not always (one friend of mine enjoyed eating bowls of cooked beef with a few vegetables mixed in).

One item that I have neglected to mention as of yet and one should look for is the pineapple. The pineapple has the unique ability in all of the food to express the sauces most clearly after it has been cooked with them. As such, the pineapple is a wonderful mouth orgasm of sweet pineapple flavor mixed with the spiciest of the sauces.

The price of a dinner at a Mongolian BBQ ranges from as low as $4 for one trip and $5 for all you can eat at lunch to as much as $20 for a meal (I've seen this reported - never actually eaten at a such a place). It is customary to tip the chef (and often there is a place for tips near the food preparation area) rather than the waiter or host (who likely do little more than refill water).

One anecdote that paticularly sticks in my mind was one of the last lunches I had with my cow-orkers before the startup that had gone belly up started stinking. The CEO was from the deep south and liked his food hot. I don't mean warm - I mean really, really hot to the taste. At a previous lunch at a Mexican restaurant, he would stress the tortilla chips at the table to the point of breaking with the load of the hottest salsa they had. Anyways, he saw the chili paste. This paste is one that I typically put about 1/3 to 1/4 of a spoon full on my food and consider it hot. The CEO put two full spoonfuls of the chili paste on it. When handing the bowl to the chef, the chef looked back at him in disbelief - "That too hot!" he said, the CEO said "I like it hot." I could see the chef thinking "crazy American" as he cooked the food and handed it back to him. Everything in the dish was tinted red from the chili and you could smell it from 10 feet away. The CEO loved it and went back for seconds (again with two spoonfuls of the chili paste on it) as the chef stared back at him in amazement of someone who would eat something that hot and come back for seconds.

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