My Special Taste for Mongolian BBQs

Okay, all of you might want to hit me really hard for writing about food again so I apologize. I have convinced myself that the more I write about it the less I will eat it so at least you have an idea of my thinking. So just a few days after going into great detail about homemade pizza, I am onto my next high-caloric yummy fascination.

One difference about what I am writing about tonight is that this dining option really is not that feasible to make at home. Rather, you have to go to certain restaurants to indulge in this extravagant cuisine. And believe me, I am not using the word “indulge” lightly. Mostly when people enjoy this type of food they enjoy it for quite a while afterwards because when you are done, you are stuffed. I am talking about a truly interactive dish, one that you see made right in front of your nose, from the bubbling of your sauces to the chopping of your meat to the swooping of food off the cooking surface and onto your plate. I am talking about Mongolian BBQ.

Growing up, I was initially turned off to Mongolian BBQ restaurants. Not too far away from my parents’ house, jam-packed in the middle of a not so clean strip mall was a local Mongolian grill place. We would go in for lunch or dinner occasionally. I would get my bowl and go through the rather small line of noodles, meats, and veggies and pick out what I wanted…pretty routine, right? Well, pretty routine except for the owner standing at the end of the line staring at me as I made my every move. I looked down as I put the preliminary ingredients in my bowl. But then, every single time, just as I got to the sauce section he would jolt toward me, take my bowl, and speaking in some Asian language he would talk out loud while pouring a combination of sauces on my food. He would finish splashing everything into my bowl and then hand it back to me and motion me towards the grill to have it cooked.

I hated this. It took all the joy and excitement out of the experience. It also took the fun out of eating it as well. I never liked what he concocted for me. I remember the third time going in and cringing the moment that I saw the owner in his usual spot. When I got through the first part of the line and to the sauce section I tried to resist the man’s attempt to take my bowl and my mom even tried to tell him to ease off as well but it was to no avail. His voice got louder and he aggressively motioned for my bowl. He confiscated my food once again and ruined my meal. Yep, for a long time I didn’t care too much for Mongolian BBQ.

But as I got older and as I tried different Mongolian grill type places, you know, the ones that actually let you decide what you want to put on your food, I grew to like them quite a bit. Whether it was going to pig out with football teammates, enjoying a meal with my relatives in Walla Walla, or battling my brother to see who could eat the most, I developed quite an appreciation and a craving for these types of places. The combination of an all-you-can-eat place that cooks your food right in front of you and that allows you to make flavors come alive really captured my heart and my stomach. Back in my real eating days I loved to get one plate that was super spicy and then cool down with a more mild selection and then finish off with a combination of a bunch of different flavors. I was a pig.

I also relished experiencing different Mongolian BBQs. When I was younger I didn’t place as much emphasis on cleanliness in restaurants as I do today. With that said, I have eaten in some pretty sketchy Mongolian grill joints. You know, the ones where the fish tank water is probably cleaner than the dish washing water. The ones where week old debris on and around the grill is commonplace. The ones where plates are cheap, silverware is almost plastic, and napkins are thinner than your average sheet of Kleenex. The ones where grease seems to float through the air and you feel like you need a shower when you leave. But again, during that time of my life I didn’t care. I just wanted the endless, flavorful food.

I became picky with Mongolian Grills when I moved to Missoula and tried HuHot for the first time. I couldn’t believe that a love I already had for a certain type of food could increase so much more. Soup and rice brought out right away? FLOUR TORTILLA SHELLS to roll your food up in at no extra cost? Cut up sausage available in the meat line? An endless array of sauces? A spotless restaurant that even includes a classy enough bar? Needless to say, I felt like I had died and gone to heaven during my first dining experience at HuHot (Yes, there is a HuHot in Spokane but I never got the chance to go there because it was on the other end of town and with the proliferation of Mongolian BBQ restaurants in the city, it never really occurred to me to try it. EXTRA SIDE NOTE: I sang the praises of HuHot before back when I gave out the “Brent’s Best of the Zoo” Awards…as you can see, I love the place).

But what really sets HuHot apart from everything else I had in the past is just the freshness of the ingredients. Everything from the meat to the vegetables to the tortillas to the chopped peanuts is top notch. Even though it is a franchise the food always tastes perfect.

Believe me, that was not supposed to be a commercial for HuHot. I just get really excited about the food!

Just like buffets and places like Texas Roadhouse and Olive Garden, you have to make sure to only go to Mongolian BBQs sparingly, no matter how much you like them. When you go, you are pretty much guaranteed to overeat and pretty much guaranteed to feel full and guilty afterwards. But I think the thing about Mongolian grills that help decrease the guilt a little bit is just the atmosphere and experience. Creating your own dish, experimenting with sauces, and watching someone cook it on a huge grill is fun! Just make sure to pass on dessert. Don’t Blink.