Charles Darwin and the Mongolian Grill

I am currently reading “The Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin as one of my Day Zero Challenges. Specifically, I am reading “On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.” (The title was changed to the shorter version from the 6th edition onwards). 

I had hoped to visit to the ExInked Exhibition at the Manchester Museum this weekend, to tie in with and celebrate finally finishing the book. I had to put those plans on hold as I am two weeks in and still less than half way through.

My favourite fact about Dawin is not only was he a documenter of rare species and the father of evolutionary theory, he was also a voracious carnivore – one of the great eaters of unusual animals.

Charles DarwinMatthew H wrote: “When [Darwin] discovered a new species he would lovingly sketch a picture of it in his notebook and then he would decide whether it would taste best roasted or fricasseed. One minute he was throwing back giant tortoise and the next he was chowing down on a bit of Armadillo.” (Yelp.co.uk)

I am considering reading “The Voyage of the Beagle” just to find out whether Darwin mentioned loading aboard and eating 48 tasty tortoises, making the species extinct. Arguably it was the tortoises fault: They made the mistake of being delicious and providing their own soup bowls.

If I could have joined the Gourmet Club with Darwin I would have. He ate hawk and bittern, armadillos and agoutis, puma, rhea, iguanas and the aforementioned giant tortoises. If I could, I honestly would.

With that in mind, one of my 101 / 1001 challenges is to eat 10 unusual meats that I haven’t tried before. Step one towards this goal was to eat at Genghis Khans: Mongolian Grill, on Chorlton Street in the Village, Manchester.

GENGHIS KHAN REVIEW

My first impression of the venue was a little mixed: From outside it looked warm and inviting with its deep red walls and appetising menu in the window, but the moment we entered I couldn’t help noticing that the wheelchair access lift, next to the entrance, was being used to store old beer kegs. Aside from being unsightly it raised the question of what other junk they store in the kitchen. (It also made me wonder how they expect their wheelchair using customers to get up the stairs to the restaurant to tell them they want to use the lift). I was hungrily anticipating eating zebra so I quickly dismissed these concerns.     

At the bar we were greeted by our young server who immediately asked whether or not we had a Groupon voucher. Was she psychic? On this occasion we did have a voucher, but it made me suspicious that no-one pays full price. (If they don’t, was my deal really the bargain I thought it was?)    

UNUSUAL DECOR

We surrendered the voucher and were led to the far end of the restaurant: past the food counter and cooking area, past all the other diners, up some steps, into a second dining area where every table wobbled. We know every table wobbled because our server very helpfully tried each table in turn to find the least wobbly option. As there wasn’t one, we selected a table beneath a fake raw-hide where we could peer into the main room and monitor the queue. 

In addition to the raw-hide the wall was decorated with a shield boasting a portrait of Genghis Khan. (I don’t know why this was decorated with fake dead mice hanging from their tails. Do you?) Another imaginative feature was the numerous sets of chairs stacked up around the perimeter. (Perhaps Groupon customers eat in the store room rather than in the dining room.)  

Our server was perfectly friendly but completely useless. She forgot our order the moment she turned her back. She was also confused by which starters we selected. As there were only four options: chicken, beef, pork or veg, I’m not sure why she found this so difficult. A different server brought us our starters then both left us alone to look at our food without any cutlery to eat with.

THE MAIN EVENT

Of course, we weren’t there for the starters. In fact, we were relieved that our skewer and rice dishes were minuscule. We didn’t want to fill up on boring chicken and beef – No; we were there for the unusual meats. Amongst other items the menu promised zebra, ostrich, buffalo and wildebeest, subject to availability. They also occasionally serve reindeer and crocodile but perhaps it isn’t the season. The unusual options of the day were kangaroo, wild boar and pangasius.

Self ServeAlthough the starters and deserts are served at the table the main course was self serve. Along half the length of the restaurant is a counter where you wait your turn to select a bowl, some meat, some vegetables, some sauce, some herbs and spices then you deliver all that to the chef to cook up teppanyaki style for you.

(Apparently the Mongolian army’s daily meal was tenderised strips of meat barbecued on their metal war shields, using slender tree branches to toss the food. The restaurant equivalent is to cook the food on a standardised round hot-plate using elongated chopsticks).

DELICIOUS SKIPPY

Working from the far end of the counter I selected some juicy looking pieces of kangaroo steak. I piled on a selection of mixed vegetables and was then faced with the decision of which sauce(s) and herbs to choose. Kangaroo beerThere was probably about a dozen very different sauces and marinades to choose from but I wanted something that would enhance the flavour of the meat rather than mask it. I decided beer should work well. (Kangaroo – Australia – beer: you can see my thought process). To spice it up a little I added jerk and cracked pepper.

We delivered our concoctions to the chef who proceeded to cook it before us on a large semi-circular hotplate. Despite cooking about 20 meals at once whilst the customers wandered off or swapped places, the chefs did remarkably well at matching the concoctions with their owners.

Ghengis KhanOur first dish seemed to take forever to cook. We realised we’d made a mistake by not overflowing our bowls as the other customers had: By the time our dishes were reduced by cooking and served to us there was very little left to eat. That aside, my first taste of kangaroo steak was unforgettable. I had been right to keep the dish simple: It was delicious, perfectly tender, juicy and oozing with flavour.

HAZARDOUS SQUID

The second time we queued for our food the time passed more quickly. Perhaps it was because we now knew it was worth the wait. Rather than diving straight into the wild boar I decided to mix together a few of the fish options: My bowl overflowed with squid rings, salmon, prawns and pangasius (catfish). Choosing the sauces again was difficult: They had lots of flavours that would work well with chicken, beef, pork and turkey but I didn’t fancy them with fish. I opted for a simple Thai Green Curry with a selection of extras from the spice rack.

As delicious as this new concoction was it was also potentially lethal. People have told me they cannot eat squid because they find it too stringy and that it chokes them. I have never had that problem before, but, wow, it was a problem this night! I really had to concentrate on each and every mouthful to prevent myself from dying.  

I nearly choked on three occasions. I tried to only eat small pieces at a time but that’s hard when you’re using chopsticks. When I thought I’d chewed it enough I would try to swallow a bit – but unknown to me that ‘bit’ was usually still attached by a little unsnapable string to the ‘bit’ I hadn’t yet swallowed, so I was left with the frightening sensation of the whole thing slowly being pulled down my throat. Leaning forward to put gravity on my side didn’t help either. Scary stuff! I think I’ll skip the squid next time.

WILD BOAR

For my forth and final course I chose wild boar in a beer sauce. I know it was unimaginative to choose beer again but I didn’t want the sauce to overpower the flavour. I think the red wine would have worked well too but why mess with perfection?

(I watched other people mixing together a variety of different sauces – I’m sure individually they would all be tasty but mixed together like that they couldn’t taste good. Could they? Surely not.)

I thought the kangaroo was delicious and full of flavour until I tasted the wild boar. This packed a much stronger hit of flavour. It was similarly tender with a slightly coarser texture and it too was bursting with delicious juices.

VERDICT

So despite being a little overly critical and negative about the venue I wouldn’t hesitate to go back there again.* The dishes I had were delicious, (forget the starters – they were a load of rubbish) but I probably wouldn’t pay full price to go back, unless they were serving the more exiting of the exotic meats. (I’m very disappointed they didn’t have zebra). At £20.95 per person I would expect something more interesting than kangaroo and wild boar – both of which I could have bought at the forthcoming Manchester Food and Drink Festival or Manchester Christmas Market (or probably at most other Manchester’s food markets).

But I didn’t pay full price, did I? A little while ago I posted the offer on my Deals and Bargains page saying that GK: Mongolian Grill was offering 2 courses, including the unlimited BBQ, for 2 people for £15. i.e. £7.50 – per head. At that price it really was a bargain.

If another offer comes up for this restaurant I will be first in the queue.

Footnote:

*There was nothing wrong with the décor really – It was a bit tired and they should probably do something about all the wobbliness but it all adds to the character of the place.

Questions:

  • What is the strangest meat you have tried?
  • If you could try any unusual meat (ethical reasoning aside) what would you eat?
  • Do you know any other restaurants or food places in Manchester that I should try to help me complete this challenge?

All comments welcome 🙂

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15 thoughts on “Charles Darwin and the Mongolian Grill

  1. Charles Darwin sounds like a prick.
    But that restaurant sounds cool, I wonder how the McDonalds crowd would get on with that finding your own food matches? I can just imagine Stretford accents shouted across the restaurant ‘Chantel, what goes with Kangaroo, basil or fennel?’

    As for the squid, lol, was it me who told you I always choke on squid because of the shape?

    • Have you heard the story about the tortoises before? I was appalled when I heard it. The intention was to take them back to England alive so they could be studied. Without reading the other book I don’t know whether they realised at the time that they were making them extinct.

      I prefer to hope it was an accident – that the ship ran low on food supplies and as Darwin hadn’t written about evolution and extinction yet that they didn’t know what they were doing.

      I think you were one of the people who mentioned having a problem with squid. My mum can’t eat it either. I’m glad that wasn’t my first experience with it otherwise I’d never eat it again.

      Did Lou reply to your rant about Foie Gras? (Anyone would think I deliberately wind you up! :-p) What is the strangest meat you’ve ever tried?

      • This sounds amazing. I’ve had Kanagroo before in a place back home, I also had crocodile as did my dad just so he could make the joke ‘crocodike and make it snappy’ o dear. I had bear battered croc and it was yum. Really liked kangaroo too. Had kangaroo pie in Oz, altough in some states it is illegal to eat it.

        I quite like squid, I had squid ink pasta on holiday but that was quite horrid, it looked like tarmac. I had wood pigeon once, that was really nice! And in Vietnam a waiter told me I was eating dog but I’m not sure he wasn’t just winding me up…

        I wouldn’t eat tortoise or cat, those to are of the menu for me. I would like to try wild boar though. Can’t think of any places as exciting as where you went! Wish I’d got the offer now.

        Ha what is the Foie Gras rant, what am I missing?

        • Dave responded to your comment about trying ‘Foie’ in Spain. It’s under your comment against my Defective Baking post. I knew Dave’s feelings about it after Claire mentioned it at our first book club meeting. (Taps used to serve it).

          Where is ‘back home’? Where are you originally from? I’m going to guess South Africa. Am I right? I haven’t tried either gator or croc. I would try them if they were on offer though.

          I can’t imagine eating squid ink pasta. The ink is used for defence isn’t it? I can’t imagine how that would taste. Someone I know ate whole squid once. He said he could cut chunks out of it and it still kept its shape. 😦 It doesn’t sound good does it?

          I wouldn’t eat tortoise or cat or dog either. I think Dave did a post on ManchestersArtisticSon about foods he wouldn’t eat and invited others to post their lists too. (I might just be making that up – but there was definitely a post about lists).

          I think Tillybud (The laughing Housewife) wrote she tried elephant once, when she lived in South Africa.

          • Ah I’ll check it out! Ha no I’m definitely not fom Africa, try Newcastle! Not quite so exotic. But there is a resturant near where I live that does amazing food and believe it or not there is a kangaroo farm in the area so that’s where the meat comes from.

            I’ve had squid ink before that i think and it was ok, but this was intense, honeslty looked like tarmac, damn wish I had taken a pic. I couldn’t eat much.

            I don’t knowhow people can eat cats : ( But then I love them so I’m biased. Not sure I could eat elephant either although I’m curious about what it tastes like.

  2. P.S. Although I occasionally write tongue in cheek posts about being a ‘voracious carnivore’ I’m actually a big softie and a huge animal lover. I know my vegetarian friends will read these posts and tut / shake their head / roll their eyes / and say ‘Oh Sammy!’ but they know me and they know when I’m teasing. (At least, I hope they do!)

    The day after I published this post Nancy (Nrhatch) published a post about 10 Ways to Help Stop Animal Cruelty. She included some wonderful thought-provoking quotes (as always) such as:

    “The question is not, ‘Can they reason?’ nor, ‘Can they talk?’ but rather, ‘Can they suffer?’ ~ Jeremy Bentham”.

    You can read the full post here: http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2011/09/20/10-ways-to-help-stop-animal-cruelty/

    • Well I thought you were serious – this eating 10 dead things part of your 101 in 1001 is the bit I’m least sympathetic to, (that and the rubix cube challenge) I actually went from the Charles Darwin story and signed up to WWF and RSPCA believe it or not. I was planning anyway to sign up to something because my bank balance is returning to healthy, but thanks to you starving African children lost out to endangered animals. I’m no geography expert but I think Lou is from the North East, i.e. Newcastle, but you might be right with RSA. I think I’ve had squid ink risotto, the ink is just like fish stock. I’ve been telling people about the grill place, sounded like a hit.

      • I am up for trying new foods but there doesn’t need to be cruelty. I eat meat so I believe that if you are going to kill an animal to eat it then you owe it to use every part of the animal. (It doesn’t happen much in this country though). I think you also owe it to them not to shy away from learning and accepting how they are killed.

        My food challenges aren’t just about trying new things they’re about forcing myself to try things I don’t really want to try, with the 2 above points in mind. Do I really want to sheep brains, hooves or trotters? What do you think? It isn’t part of our culture but I probably should try it to do the animals justice.

        I used to be in WWF and the RSPCA too. (And the National Trust and RSPB and probably others that I’ve forgotten right now). They’re good charities. I’m glad I inspired you to join them. ;-p

        (But I’m sorry the African children are missing out. Hmm, I need to rectify that).

        I think you’re right about Lou being from Newcastle. What made me think South Africa? How could I be so wrong! (embarrassed now)

  3. Oh forgot – wierdest meat I’ve had – Horse, frog, pigeon, bison, Ostrich, goat, shark, octopus, swordfish, worm (in the tequilla) mutton and veal, venison and eel, wild boar (you can’t get far in Italy without eating it) and probably others I’ve chosen to forget, I always think they’re more boring than you expect, and never as good as Lamb rump or Beef Sirloin, so I’m interested when you say Kangaroo was genuinely great. I eat meat about twice a month so wouldn’t suit a meat challenge on my 101-1001. I’ve grown a beard though, and have started xmas shopping, though that isn’t a challenge.

    • I think the kangaroo was helped with choosing the right ingredients to go with it. You can usually buy kangaroo burgers from the Manchester Markets but I think all the bread (and ketchup / mustard?) would completely ruin it. Simple is best.

      Are you growing your beard for Christmas? (I just had a vision of the December book meeting with us all in Santa costumes. It’s such a shame that although Lou has agreed to do 100-things-she-doesn’t-really-want-to-do that the rest of the book group hasn’t).

      I haven’t started my Christmas shopping yet. The year before last I had about 80% of it done by the end of June. That was a good year. lol

  4. Just saw a documentary, we’re killing 100,000,000 sharks a year currently!! Isn’t shark on your list? It was the Monty Halls living on Ireland programme, I don’t usually watch TV but felt dreadfully tired all day and it was all I had the energy for. Shame. My vegitarian month challenge is coming closer, I can feel it. I liked your idea btw, I need to work out about polls on my blog.

    • Oh that’s awful! No, shark isn’t on my list. I don’t really have a list. I would never dream of having shark fin soup. It’s awful what they do to them. Isn’t it illegal to kill them for their fins now? (Rather than throwing them back alive without fins I think they have to bring the whole shark back, which they obviously don’t want to do).

      Have you ever been vegetarian before? I think it’s easier now than it used to be. You used to be limited to just one (or two if you’re lucky) options when you went out but now you’re catered for a lot more. Manchester has a few vegetarian restaurants I would quite like to try out. There’s one tucked away in the Northern Quarter – can’t remember its name.

      • It was the Earth Vegetarian Cafe and Juice Bar underneath the Manchester Buddhist Centre. http://www.manchesterbuddhistcentre.org.uk/health-well-being/earth-cafe

        They organised a Meditating Flash Mob in the city centre yesterday. for International Day of Peace. I’m disappointed I missed it. – I’m not big into mediating (at least not in public) but if I’d known about it I would have joined in.

        If anyone hears any rumours of Flash Mobs in Manchester please let me know! (That is on my list – Preferably something arty and fun).

  5. Pingback: Mini Manchester Musings | Manchester Meanders

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