The great Mongolian lie
What do you do when you’re already out, gathering groceries and finishing other miscellaneous errands before the weekend ends? You go to lunch, and since you’re far enough away from home and the usual spots, you check Yelp.
Yelp led me to one of the greatest restaurants in Renton, Wash. area a few months ago. A small barbecue place where the orders—ribs, chicken, turkey, and brisket, usually brisket—meet you at the table as soon as you sit down. The immediacy is a good thing, because the food was tremendous the last three or four times I’ve visited.
Where would Yelp bring me to next? I would say my hunger for Mongolian grill was subconscious, but as soon as Yelp’s local recommendation was a place of the type, the recent lack of it jumped right to the front of my mind. It had been too long since the steam of a salty combination of grilled meat and noodles sat under nose. You have to be practically voracious for the heaps of food you’ll walk away with at a Mongolian grill—and I was. Lunch was decided.
My only comparison to Jasmine’s Mongolian Grill in Kent, Wash. was the two Chang’s Mongolian Grills I had spent the last 5 years of my life bouncing back and forth from. The Mongolian grill is a simple idea, one that I doubt is capable of flubbing. You’ve got a buffet-style line of fixings—thinly sliced meat and poultry, vegetables, noodles, seafood, and an assortment of flavoring liquids—that lead to a massive, circle-shaped, flat grill at some ungodly amount of heat. You slide through the ingredients filling up a bowl or two, soak it in a brew of liquids like soy sauce and garlic that only a true witch could love, and you hand it to the chef as he orbits around the grill.
I’ve learned during my frequent visits to Chang’s over the years that there’s a secret game at play while you listen to your concoction char and sizzle on the grill in front of you. The chefs dump each bowl of food onto the grill in order and you have to remember which one is your’s. The trick is to remember the order, because everyone’s mixture is meat, vegetables, and noodles too. I’ve gotten someone else’s creation before and I was very confused and soon disappointed as I made my trek back to the food aisle with a new bowl. If you want to eat what’s rightly yours, you’ve got to pay attention.
With this elaborate lead up to the actual eating of the food, you’d think it would be full of depth and texture to make it all worth it in the end. No, not really. It’s mostly a confusing mixture of Asian flavors, mostly soy sauce, and noodles. In a lot of ways, it feels like the equivalent of a KFC chicken bowl with its lazy combination of chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, gravy, and cheese. It’s like someone threw a bunch of ingredients into a bowl (heh) and thought what better way to bring this all together with way too many noodles? The result is an overwhelming plate of carbohydrates and grease, not all that different from the drive-throughs that lined the the way home. I can’t say I was surprised; I just forgot.
I’ll give Jasmine’s points for making waddle-inducing food look like it has some amount of class. The place breathes with a high ceiling and wide walkways. Chang’s always feels so needlessly congested with tables and booths behind two imposing walls to funnel you to the grill. I realize the whole concept is not far off of a scientist testing to see if a rat is smart enough to find the cheese at the end of the maze, but it doesn’t need to be that obvious.
What cemented this devious relationship between food and eater is my discovery tonight as I was doing a little research on the history of Mongolian grill cuisine. I found out it’s essentially a lie. It’s actually defined as Mongolian barbecue, but it’s neither Mongolian or barbecue. It’s roots are in Taiwan and its popularity spread into America. This is the second time today that I can’t say I’m surprised. Mongolians typically eat lots of meat because their cold climate doesn’t allow vegetables to grow reliably. Mongolian barbecue is more related to a Japanese style of cooking called teppanyaki, which consists of food fried on an iron griddle. Leave it to Wikipedia to reveal to me the truth of what I gladly put inside of my mouth.
The internet brought me to Jasmine’s and it will probably keep me away. Let this be a personal reminder that there are so many better options out there than a plate of food with a fake ID and the power to make me hate myself tonight. I will not be fooled again.