If you grew up in the ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s near a suburban mall, you’ve probably had Mongolian BBQ. If not, imagine a salad bar of stir-fry ingredients culminating in a huge circular griddle maned by two guys in chef whites wielding giant chopsticks. I’m not exactly sure what makes it Mongolian, other than names like “Khan’s Mongolian Grill.” The cuisine has its roots in the Japanese dish teppanyaki, which was popular in Taipei in the ’50s but there isn’t really a definitive history, though some cheesy mall chains make up stories about fierce Mongolian soldiers grilling hot meat.
In any case, I first fell in love with Mongolian BBQ as a child in Studio City, California at Mogo’s, which has sadly closed. In Southern California there is no shortage of Mongolian BBQ restaurants at shopping malls and strip malls. For my sweet 16, my dad found someone to come over and set up a Mongolian grill in our backyard. That was a hit.
But adulthood has provided precious few Mongolian BBQ experiences. As far as I can tell, there are NO restaurants in New York City. Just outside the city in a town called Blauvelt is the excellent Khan’s, which is sadly closed for lunch on Sundays, which is why I decided to make the damn thing myself.
The noodles are SUPER key. You want them to be slippery but still chewy. Regular udon noodles are perfect (especially if you can find the the flat ones), make sure there’s a mix of wheat flour and tapioca in the ingredients. You can make this dish vegan and skip the beef all together, or substitute chicken or shrimp. You can also add whatever you want. Just put the thicker vegetables in first with garlic. I suggest: broccoli, carrots, zucchini, baby corn, water chestnuts, tomatoes, cabbage, green peppers, and definitely pineapple.
There are a few rules to making your Mongolian BBQ taste “authentic.”
- Do NOT skip the cilantro, it’s a key component of that mall taste.
- You must use jarred chopped (often sold as minced in the produce section by the salad dressing) garlic.
- You must use sesame oil as well as a neutral vegetable oil like Grapeseed.
- You must use a wok if you don’t have a Mongolian grill.
Mongolian BBQ for Four
4 servings udon noodles
1/2 cup sliced mushrooms (shitake or baby bella will do)
2 cups spinach
1 cup thinly sliced white onion
1 package firm tofu
5 tablespoons minced garlic from a jar
2 cups mung bean sprouts
1/2 cup chopped scallions
4 tablespoons lemon juice
5 tablespoons grapeseed oil
8 tablespoons sesame oil
4 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Optional but highly recommended:
1/2 pound thinly sliced beef (or chicken)
1 teaspoon Sriracha, plus more to serve
1 small pack enoki mushrooms (about 1 cup after cutting off the roots)
First take the tofu out of the water and pat dry with a paper towel. Wrap it in a fresh paper towel and place a plate on top for 5 minutes to press out excess water. Cut into 1-inch cubes and set aside next to your wok.
Marinate the beef in one tablespoon of garlic, a splash of soy sauce, and one teaspoon of Sriracha for at least ten minutes.
Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the udon noodles for 6-8 minutes, until just al dente. Drain and set aside, toss with a tiny bit of oil to keep them from sticking.
Heat 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil in a hot wok over medium-high neat. Cook the marinated beef for two minutes on each side. Remove and set aside on a plate.
You’re going to fry each batch of noodles separately so each person can determine what they do and don’t want.
For each portion:
Heat one tablespoon grapeseed oil in the hot wok. Add one tablespoon minced garlic and cook for thirty seconds. Add one quarter of the mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, bean sprouts, onions, and tofu and cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally. Add one quarter of the spinach and a tablespoon of sesame oil and cook for two minutes. Then add one serving of noodles, one tablespoon lemon juice, one tablespoon soy sauce, another tablespoon of sesame oil, and one quarter of the beef and scallions. Keep cooking for 3-5 minutes, only stirring once per minute, until the desired doneness (I like to cook mine longer so it gets crispy). You may want to add another splash of soy sauce. Garnish with a healthy sprinkling of cilantro. Repeat for the other dishes, or just divide each portion into bowls as soon as each batch is ready.
You may also like: