Midwest meets Mongolia in Torch Lake Township

Posted on July 1, 2010



Oyundari Batsaikhan (Odi) and Erinzuun Bolormaa (Crystal) are learning about the U.S. from behind the counter at Chris and Sonny’s Torch Lake Market. It took them 25 hours to travel to their summer jobs, flying from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing to Chicago to Detroit, and then taking a bus to Traverse City. They arrived knowing that there was unlikely to be a single person in the Township who could speak any Mongolian.  They also suspected, correctly, that the first thing we would do would be to give them nicknames that we could pronounce.  In spite of these hardships they seem to be having a good time.  That is because they are patient and good-humored and their English is a whole lot better than our cumulative Mongolian.

Happy Birthday Oyundari

Odi turned 19 on Monday. What would you like to do for your birthday? Chris and Sonny asked. Cook for you, Odi replied. Chris and Sonny looked at Crystal. Yes, they had understood correctly. Odi and Crystal would like to share Mongolian culture with the Szejbachs, and the best way to do that would be to cook them a Mongolian meal. Well then. That sounded like a lovely idea. Chris and Sonny said that they would provide dessert.

In the morning there was a chocolate birthday cake decorated with a Mongolian flag, made by Chris’s niece. (That’s the Soyombo symbol on the flag, and the link will explain it to you much better than I can.) Customers had cake with breakfast, cake with coffee, cake with lunch . . . Americans are inexplicable.  Nice, though. 

All day customers wished Odi a happy birthday and brought her cards and little presents. After lunch, Chris and Sonny tended the store while Odi and Crystal got down to business in the kitchen. As the preparations proceeded, Chris realized that “cook for you” meant something roughly equivalent to “cook for the entire Township,” and she got on the phone.

That’s Crystal in pink Mongolian cashmere and Odi in purple Mongolian silk–with an iPod attached to her ear.  I was completely absorbed in the preparations. I also managed to score some early samples. Someone, after all, has to be a taste tester. 

These two are a marvel in the kitchen.  Sonny says he told them he’d like them to learn to roll out a pizza crust–and watched in amazement as they did it perfectly the first time.  You’ve done this before! he said.  No, no–never! they said.  Then he watched them working on Odi’s birthday dinner and understood why they knew how to roll out perfect circles of tender dough.  You can see a complete slideshow of the Kitchen Choreography on Odi and Crystal cook for you.

Dinner is served

Then the people Chris had called began to arrive and we pushed tables together and everyone sat down and said how nice, and Happy Birthday.  There were lots of good conversations going on.

Dillon showed Sonny how an awesome cellphone works.  I’m pretty sure that’s what they were on about.

Sonny and Betty Jo caught up.  Babs explained how her new iPhone app made Torch Lake Views utterly irrelevant.  In despair, I drowned my sorrows in Milk Tea.

We all tried the milk tea.  It is, explained Crystal helpfully, very popular with old people in Mongolia.  Refreshing.  Soothing.  This was when it occurred to us that to young ladies from a place where 70% of the population is under 35, Torch Lake Township is a one big Community Home for the Extremely Ancient.  For some reason we all thought this was hilarious.  True–OK, except for Dillon and Kolleen, who are youthful even by Mongolian standards–but hilarious nonetheless. 

So then I made everybody pose for a Thanksgiving Picture, and I got most everyone in but not quite.  I’m pretty sure they’re all in the second slideshow at Torch Lake Township meets Mongolian cuisine (where you will also see all the delectable dishes in full glory).  Now here’s the thing I want you to notice especially.  Odi and Crystal, exquisite cooks that they are, think that ketchup is a perfect complement to Mongolian cuisine. 

Midwest Meets Mongolia. Beautiful friendship ensues.