If a buffet is good, a made-to-order grill system where the food is cooked right in front of you is even better. Not only do mongolian grills allow you the freedom to select the specifics of your dish right down to the seasoning, they also give you the opportunity to watch directly as your food is prepared to your specifications.
A Deceptive Title
Despite the name, Mongolian grill cuisine (commonly referred to as Mongolian barbecue) does not have ties to Mongolia at all. In fact, this cuisine was developed in Taiwan and has more cultural ties to China (as the creator hailed from Beijing) than anywhere else. Unlike Mongolian food (which is based heavily around dairy and animal fat due to the cold climate), this cuisine is fresh, bright, and bursting with flavor.
Mongolian barbecue was initially marketed as a street food and sold in a small, shabby restaurant, but it eventually gained popularity with the upper echelons of society. This led to countless imitations of the original restaurant, which more and more catered to an elevated clientele. Eventually, this style of food had become so popular that it migrated West to the United States.
Totally Unique Experience
The system of Mongolian grill restaurants is unlike any other. Patrons select their raw ingredients from a buffet-style line; they can choose meats, vegetables, sauces, and the type of rice or noodle they’d prefer before handing their selections to chefs working around a large grill, who expertly prepare the dishes. In some ways, Mongolian grill is like a hibachi restaurant that allows for a high degree of customization. All in all, no other restaurant experience provides the same sort of wholly individualized prep that a Mongolian grill provides.
The fact that you get to select your own ingredients start to finish makes the process of eating at one of these restaurants as comfortable as eating at your own home. Plus, you don’t deal with any upcharges for extreme customization as you might at a traditional restaurant; in fact, individuality is built into the Mongolian grill system.
Mongolian Barbecue Favorites
Mongolian grill dishes are generally served in the form of bowls with a protein, a grain, and a series of vegetables. Some popular incarnations of this system you can make at home include:
- Sesame Beef — To achieve the much-loved sesame beef dish at home, you’ll need to create a marinade by mixing soy sauce and brown sugar, then allow your flank steak to marinate for at least 30 minutes (but ideally for much longer). Next, you’ll saute both your vegetables and steak, then add cornstarch and sesame seeds to your remaining marinade to create the sauce.
If you’re hoping to create this dish at a Mongolian grill restaurant, you need only choose thinly sliced steak as your protein, pile on as many veggies as you’d like, and select sesame sauce before handing your raw food over to the chefs to prepare.
- Teriyaki Chicken — To create teriyaki chicken at home, you’ll have to mix a sauce out of soy sauce, vinegar, honey, ginger, garlic, cornstarch, and oil. Next, cook the slices of chicken in a pan until heated through and add the sauce to coat. Beyond these basic steps, you’ll need to cook your vegetables and rice before adding all of these components together for your final dish.
At a Mongolian grill, you can achieve this dish by selecting slices of chicken and teriyaki sauce for the chefs to prepare. Broccoli is always a favorite addition to teriyaki chicken, but spinach or another green may also pair well.
The Sky’s The Limit
The potential for customizing these dishes is virtually limitless. Although sesame beef is often served with peppers, you could branch out by adding carrots or onions to the mix. Likewise, teriyaki chicken is generally served with broccoli but you may find pineapple and scallions are more complementary flavors for these recipes. For the most part, the easiest variations to any Mongolian grill recipe will have to do with the fresh aspects, like fruits and vegetables, but you can always switch up the sauces and spices if you have a knack for flavor profiles.
Of course, it is easier to experiment with other combinations in a restaurant setting than at home where you have limited resources. If you’re feeling particularly curious at a Mongolian grill, put on your chef hat and try out unusual pairings, like thai peanut sauce with steak, pineapple, and broccoli. In this setting, you have nothing to lose if an experiment fails, so let your imagination run wild.
Some of the offerings you’re likely to find at a Mongolian grill are: steak, chicken, shrimp, tofu, broccoli, carrots, spinach, peppers, curry, ginger, garlic, and many more. The list goes on and on, and includes variety of sauces and bases, so the pairings go on indefinitely as well.
Navigating a Mongolian Grill
The layout of most Mongolian grill restaurants mirrors their style of cuisine: free flowing and open. You can meander through the lines of toppings before approaching the grill, which is usually large and round, encircled by a team of chefs. Once it’s your turn to hand over your ingredients, the chefs will deftly maneuver between your meal and several others, allowing them to cook for just the right amount of time before returning them to diners.
Many times, these restaurants are quite similar to buffets in that they have all-you-can-eat policies, which further contribute to the experimental sense of these grills. The atmosphere tends to be light and buzzing, with people constantly moving, giving an elevated casual air.
Buffets are great for variety, sit down meals are perfect for a relaxing night out, and cooking at home allows you the freedom to experiment, but why not combine all of these benefits and visit a Mongolian grill restaurant? Not only is the experience completely unique, but you’re also likely to enjoy one of the freshest and best prepared meals you’ve had in some time.