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Mongolia. Seriously. 2 Fast 2 Furious.


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To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

You might suspect that the failure of Eagle Hunter's eagle to hunt -- on account of alleged obesity no less (I ask you, did Eagle Hunter's eagle look at all overweight?) -- was the last straw. But it was merely the penultimate straw. The last straw came shortly thereafter. Eagle Hunter, now designated in my internal dialog as Eagle Hunter with Obese Eagle, wanted to spend some more time communing with his eagle in the field prior to returning the eagle to the other field where it is kept chained to a rock. So he suggested we go on without him to the next stop on our Mongolian Kazakh dude ranch itinerary: the felt-making operation.

Though I had never had the slightest interest in felt or its production, I had been on the receiving end of several days of propaganda regarding how fascinating the felt-making process really is. And, I was told, it is all the more fascinating when done entirely by hand in a ger. So I was actually getting pretty excited about the prospect of seeing the start-to-finish process of making wool felt. "How do they make felt after all?" I asked myself.

But I was not to learn the answer at that time. Because after we walked for about half an hour through five-foot-high grasses and thorn bushes (advertised as "5 minute walk to ger next door") in order to get to the felt-making ger, and after milling about interminably until Aiyka was able to ascertain the hospitality readiness status of the inhabitants of said ger, I was informed, "Oh, they already made the felt for today. So sorry." Yes, the women of the ger had already made all of their wool felt that day despite the fact that they had been the ones to extend the invitation to come over and observe the felt-making process in the first place. Apparently the ordeal with Eagle Hunter with Obese Eagle and his too-fat-to-fly eagle had taken too long and we had missed our chance.

That was the last straw. Although, the way I've portrayed it here, it sounds as though the straw snapped suddenly. In reality, it was a sluggish realization that so many things had gone wrong, and that this was yet another thing gone wrong, and that, dammit, I'm not going to take it anymore. So, yes, even though I know you might think less of me for it, I admit it: I had a bit of a nervous breakdown over the issue of felt.

The breakdown went something like this: I charged off through the thorn bushes in the direction of Eagle Hunter with Obese Eagle's ger (despite my best efforts and numerous runs through the washer and dryer, I've still been unable to extract all of the thorns and pieces of grass from my shoes -- almost a month later I'm still finding them around my apartment). I grumbled under my breath and as I stomped through the herd of enormous yaks resting in the dirt, who hastily rose up in fear and gave me a wide berth.

I started to recount the indignities: First I fly out to this god-forsaken part of the country where it's hot as Hades and dry as an oven, all based on the promise of seeing an Eagle Hunter hunt with his eagle. I wait patiently every day to meet said Eagle Hunter. Then I wait patiently to see the Eagle Hunter with his eagle. No, no eagle on the horseback riding trip. No, no eagle today. Then, on my last day, when I finally do see the eagle with the Eagle Hunter, I'm told there will be no hunting because it's summer (so, why exactly am I here?). But, there will be training (woo hoo). And we will be spending a great deal of time with Eagle Hunter and his eagle. And then the eagle won't fly. Because it's fat??? And then the indignity of the felt-making? Is anyone paying any attention here at all?

Still muttering to myself under my breath like a deranged madwoman, I bounded across the river on Eagle Hunter with Obese Eagle's previously laid stones, fuelled by nothing more than frustration. I returned to the ger, collected my soap and tiny towel, and charged over to the river to wash my filthy hair. I don't know why; it just seemed like the thing to do. To say it was symbolic of the desire to cleanse myself of recent events would probably be reading too much into it.

Off came my grassy, thorny shoes. Now what? I'm standing barefooted on the edge of a rocky river. There are children, goats, sheep and yaks with Texas-sized horns milling about (well, there weren't any yaks right there -- but they could wander over at any time) and my intention is to get at least some part of myself clean. It doesn't have to be all of me, mind you -- perhaps just the dirtiest patches of skin and my unruly hair would be good.

Precariously perched on two uneven rocks, I bent over the furious river so that some of my hair fell into the water. I scooped the water onto my head and sucked in my breath -- cold, damn cold, probably around 45 degrees F -- and made sure that no strands escaped. After one too many dunks, the searing pain in my head became so intense that I teetered over on those stones. I put my hands out in front of me to catch myself before I toppled into the river. By this time a small group of curious children had gathered around to see what the hell I was doing. Of course it didn't make any sense, the civilized people in their homes, er, gers, fetched water from the river and heated it up like everyone else in the world does, but on the previous night when the women of the ger -- including my translator/guide -- were taking part in this ritual, no offer came forth for me to do the same and I didn't want to ask, lest I waste some of their precious fuel. Apparently, my translator/guide had no such concern.

I paused and waited for the pain in my head to subside (think ice-cream brain-freeze times a hundred) before I could wet my hair further. I lathered my hair with shampoo, took my water bottle, filled it with river water, walked 100 yards away from the river and rinsed.

I repeated this process until my hair was free of shampoo. It occurred to me that the river could easily be unsanitary, full of filth, excrement, or worse (vicious animals?). But I harbored the hope that I was being cynical (what else is new) and bitter and that it was actually a pristine river in the wilderness. I continued with my hair washing charade, knowing full well that before my hair could dry it would already be dirty again with the blowing dust.

When you're firing on all cylinders from dawn 'til dusk for days on end, you don't have much time for reflection. But at this point, I did stop to ruminate on the subject of eagle hunting. Could this possibly be an effective means of hunting? Was there ever a time in history when a person could depend on an eagle to provide enough food to live on? Is it even possible for an eagle living mostly in captivity to capture more food than it needs to be fed? If eagles don't even hunt for a large part of the year, are they really good for anything more than sport, the lining for your hat, and the occasional freshly killed snack?

Later, back at my computer, I did some searching online. There aren't a lot of journalists who have gone to western Mongolia to observe the Mongolian Kazakh eagle hunters. But there are a few. I found two articles. The first was by Sheryl Shapiro (no relation to me). Surely, I could vicariously experience an eagle hunt through Sheryl Shapiro's account:

We rode to several rock outcrops, where we left the horses at the base and climbed to the top. Armanbek circled the base, hoping to scare rabbits out of their burrows. We repeated this in several places, with no luck, but sent the eagles up anyway. They perched on high rocks and circled and soared, returning more or less when called to hand with a bit of bait. The next day we rode in a different direction -- hunters and part of the group up to the rocks, the rest of us along the frozen riverbed, hooting and hollering to scare animals out of their burrows. We crossed the frozen river by spreading dirt from the riverbank to the other side and leading the animals across. The dirt provides traction for both animals and people. The river is frozen through enough to drive a truck across, though it took a small leap of faith for me to walk on it. Again, our hunt was unsuccessful but we did manage to scare up a few rabbits.

Then I found an article by one Alan Gates (no relation to Bill), a bona fide international falconry expert. What happened on Gates's hunt?

Our first day's hunting was not the best organised due to the lack of communication. . . . We failed to spook even a sparrow . . . . A couple of hours later and nothing had stirred. . . . the scare boys had flushed a big dog fox, the eagle had covered the ground fast and raked the fox just as he made it to ground again. Try as they may they were unable to reflush the fox. . . . I was riding alongside Kakiyat when we came over a slight hill and startled a mountain hare. The eagle was airborne and after it in a flash, she fluffed her footing and was unable to regain lift as the hare jinxed away. . . . We flushed and reflushed a couple of foxes by the ability of following their tracks in the snow. On a couple of occasions I was close enough to see the eagle close in only to have the fleeing fox turn and face the eagle with her jaw open barring teeth. . . . The quarry had evaded us but we had hunted hard in this unforgiving terrain, the eagle had worked hard and behaved well . . . .

In other words, three of us travel writers schlepped all the way to western Mongolia and none of us saw an eagle catch a single thing. No doubt, there are more efficient ways to get fur for your cap, catch the fox in sox or little bunny foo foo, and entertain yourself.

Jan interrupted my reverie when she called and waved for me to come to lunch. Like a well trained dog past the point of challenging any order, I obediently trotted over, even though I knew what was on the menu -- and I knew I wanted no part of it.

But I was rewarded. I got to sample the fresh white yogurt-milk cheese that we had made just a few hours ago. It was ready to eat and I tentatively tried a nibble. It was delicious. "Damde, damde!" I exclaimed. The cheese was sort of like ricotta salata. I devoured a small hunk and picked at the mutton component of the lunch (thank heavens for the communal plate).

We were scheduled (all of a sudden, now that we had seen Eagle Hunter with Obese Eagle's eagle, our schedule resurfaced) to begin our journey back to Olgii after lunch, but first we were scheduled to go to one of the neighboring gers where, it was announced with great fanfare, I was to observe weaving. Weaving, apparently, is not the same as felt-making.

Chica, conspicuously absent from Eagle Hunter with Obese Eagle's ger all morning, smiled up at me when we walked into the "ger next door." In the midst of a bunch of energized children, there sat Chica and two of the neighbor's older daughters on the floor, trading off weaving on the ancient loom with their home-spun and home-died yarn. As I clicked away on the camera the children vied to have their pictures taken. I took pictures of the twins, but one twin didn't smile when I clicked so I took another. Then the women of the ger wanted a picture of all of the children together. I arranged and rearranged them so they could all fit into the frame. Someone ducked down as I clicked, so I took the picture again. Then the women wanted to get in on the pictures too, so they joined the group. And Chica and her friends wanted to be photographed at the loom . . . it went on like this for awhile. To signal the end of the impromptu photo shoot, I broke my camera down and put the components away with great ceremony and exaggerated body movements.

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Our driver was at the ready and the jeep was packed. We were heading for Olgii, and ultimately for away from here. We waved farewell and, tucked into the jeep, we once again forged the river. This time as the front tires of our jeep hit dry ground everyone let out whoops of triumph. "Piece of cake!" I called out. But no one understood what the expression meant so I had to explain it, and that didn't work very well.

We stopped again at Bayan Nuur By Lake Summer Village. Why, I'm still not exactly sure. Aiyka hopped out to talk to someone. A friend perhaps. We continued on our way and I asked if we would stop by the ger where they had offered to roast the whole sheep in my honor. Yes, that was on the schedule (again with the schedule). I nodded my assent.

After bumping along the Mongolian superhighway, we pulled up in front of the ger. But wait, where was the man to whom I had given the vodka -- the one that had offered to roast a whole sheep in my honor? He was not in evidence. Not that I actually wanted a sheep to be killed on my behalf, and not that I wanted to eat anymore sheep ever in my life, but I was looking forward to my reunion with my old friends.

But the women of this ger saved the day when they asked, "Would you like to see us make the wool felt?" It seems that not only had they gone through their entire felt making production for the day but in anticipation that we might return to visit them one day that week, they had set aside enough raw materials to give us a demonstration. From beginning to end I observed the process of making wool felt -- a product the family would use not only for patching the felt on their ger or constructing a new one, but also for bedding ("Kazakh mattresses"), carpets, and decoration.

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While the women were spreading the wool onto a straw mat the size of a carpet, watering it down, adding more wool, and rolling up the mat to flatten the wool, the man of the ger -- or so I thought -- made his appearance. He beamed as he welcomed us back. He pumped my hand up and down, sandwiching my hands in both of his.

There was no evidence of a roasting sheep and I silently prayed to the spirit of Chinggis Khaan (again, this is the currently preferred spelling, as evidenced by the matching Chinggis Khaan wallet and key-case J purchased for Fat Guy) to spare me. On the way, I had been told that if they did cook the sheep in my honor, as they had suggested, I would be given, as the special guest, the sheep's head -- all for me!

Please spirit of the great Khaan, please! I beg of you to show mercy on your unsuspecting subject -- please insure that they forgot about my sheep. There's been so much mutton, so much mutton fat and fur. I have shared in all of these meals, I have eaten fur and hair, I have eaten dirt, and grass. Please draw the line at the sheep's head; please show mercy for this innocent, unsuspecting recovering vegetarian!

People began collecting in the ger and soon there was a crowd including women and children of all ages as well as a handful of older men. Then, out came the vodka. The man apparently in charge poured a healthy round of vodka and toasted my return. The translator/guide translated. We drank.

I refilled the glasses (by now, I knew what to do) and it was my turn to reciprocate the toast. I thanked them for their warm hospitality and friendship. I wished them safe travels during the winter and good fortune and I thanked them for opening their home and their family to me with such kindness. Down the hatch. And, I told them, in my religion we have a toast and it means "to life" (the translator hurried to keep up and translate) "L'Chaim" and I held my glass up and waited for the lag in translation. "L'Chaim!" they all cheered -- and the vodka disappeared down our gullets. I started to feel woozy and hot -- two medium-sized glasses of vodka is a lot for me.

But it was not time to go yet. Out came another bottle of vodka. And this is when I learned that the man who I thought was "the man of the ger" was actually a neighbor and while we had just enjoyed the neighbor's vodka, now the actual man of the ger (whom I had not met on my previous visit) wanted to bust out his own bottle of vodka to toast me. So, we did the whole thing again.

He said pretty much the same things as the other guy -- the translator translated his toast, he lifted his glass, we all followed suit and "L'Chaim!" they all cheered. Down the hatch.

I then poured what I hoped would be the final round. I made sure the bottle was empty by the time I finished refilling everyone's glass. Again everyone looked at me waiting for my toast. I had pretty much used up all of my material on the first one (not knowing that I'd have to make a second one) and struggled to say something equally nice yet not redundant. The translator/guide translated, everyone smiled, we raised our glasses and "L'Chaim!" glasses returned to the table empty.

And so, having deposited this bit of Jewish culture in western Mongolia -- will they still be saying "L'Chaim" a hundred years from now? -- and having narrowly escaped the sheep-roast, we stumbled back to the jeep and attempted to depart. But first there were many photos, warm farewells, and perhaps even an attempted grope by one of the "fathers of the ger." Eventually, though, we were allowed to pile back into the trusty jeep for the drive towards Olgii. Not that there would have been any other cars to hit, but for the young people (and mothers) in the audience I'd like to add that our driver did not consume anywhere near the amount of alcohol the rest of us had. This, I had been sure to observe. Being so close to liberation, I wanted to get out alive.

That turned out to be easier said than done, however. But we'll need a Part VII for that. Stay tuned for the final chapter.

To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

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To read all the parts of this series please click: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, Part VIII

Ellen Shapiro

www.byellen.com

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No! No! Tell us noooooooooowwww...

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Thank you for the story.

I am really enjoying it and the photographs are wonderful. I really like the one with the two guys, the bottle of russian vodka, and the M&M's emblem on the guys t-shirt in the background. Talk about your multiculturalism.

Thanks again,

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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Just to let you all know, Ellen flew off to Nepal tonight and won't be back for several weeks. She left me with the last installment and all the photos and some fairly complex instructions for putting the photos in the right places. Sometime in the next couple of days, I'll get it online. She will have some Internet access in the airports and city hotels and will be checking in on these threads, but there may be signigicant delays in her responses -- so please don't feel neglected if it takes awhile for her to chime in.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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No and no.

I'd certainly be willing to go on a novice- or intermediate-level trek like the one Ellen does in Oregon along the Rogue River. It just happens that the Rogue trip has never worked with my schedule. And we've talked about doing a walking trip in Ireland -- I'm sure it will happen eventually. But the serious back-country travel she does in places like Mongolia, Nepal, and Africa? Forget about it. I'm not the slightest bit interested in that level of discomfort.

She, on the other hand, seems to have an infinite appetite for adventure and doesn't much care what she has to endure as part of the bargain. If I had just survived that Mongolia trip, I'd never leave my apartment again. But here she is, off to Nepal less than a month later, and I'm sure she'd go right back to Mongolia if she got an assignment to go there or if someone hired her to put together a tour.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Through all the segments, I'm constantly stuck on how gorgeous the kids are . Has anyone else noticed?

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Ellen, how many boards

Could the Mongols hoard

If the Mongol hoards got bored?

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Through all the segments, I'm constantly stuck on how gorgeous the kids are .  Has anyone else noticed?

Ellen and I spoke briefly at the NJ pigfest about the pictures of the children specifically. We agreed that if there were to be a "wallpaper" of these faces, along with the faces of the children of every nation...not perfectly posed, but like her photos... natural, in their natural environment, which capture the joy and depth of their innocence..if this wallpaper was in every War room, every UN office, every office of every president, ruler. or leader of every nation..well, without getting into politics, that would be a very good thing.

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Whoa!  Fat Guy got a Chinggis Khaan wallet and key-case!  Score!

Are you ready? This is very special . . .

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Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I defy any other eGullet member to produce photographic evidence of a made-in-Mongolia product.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I defy any other eGullet member to produce photographic evidence of a made-in-Mongolia product.

Let me upload an image then.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Whoa!  Fat Guy got a Chinggis Khaan wallet and key-case!  Score!

Are you ready? This is very special . . .

Sweet, dude. Maybe not quite as good as having a wallet that says "Bad Motherfucker" on it.

On the other hand, since Chinggis Khaan was a prime example of a bad motherfucker, perhaps it's the same thing.

It's very close anyway. That's what I'm trying to say here.

--

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There's a rumor going around that you're a Mongolian, so you don't count.

Hm.

Well, it was a statue anyway. Nothing so grand as a wallet.

I have some plastic Mao lighters around someplace though.

"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am the mom of J and I am SO GLAD that I only found out the details of this trip after the fact! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading every last word. Jdad and I had some good laughs at the descriptions of events but wouldn't have found it funny in the least if we'd been aware of the day-to-day while it was happening.

So sorry that Ellen lost her traveling companion for the second week and also so sorry that J missed all the fun of the Eagle person (who at least looks awesome, even if his presentation falls short) the felt making, the vodka toasting and all the other fun stuff. Thanks to Ellen for her part in making sure that J survived the bronchitis/TB/SARS.... whatever it was.

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There's a rumor going around that you're a Mongolian, so you don't count.

Hm.

Well, it was a statue anyway. Nothing so grand as a wallet.

I have some plastic Mao lighters around someplace though.

Jinmyo,

Are those the knock off zippos that play "The East is Red" while you are lighting up your "555"?

I bought a whole box of those things, I love 'em!

Brooks Hamaker, aka "Mayhaw Man"

There's a train everyday, leaving either way...

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    • By loki
      Vietnamese Pickled Eggplant
       
      These use tiny white eggplants that are nearly impossible to get here.  I tried to grow them without success (this time).  I did not have these so used unripe cherry tomatoes.
       
      Ingredients
      2 lb eggplant (tiny white SE Asian types) or green cherry tomatoes.
      1/4 cup salt
      1 TBL galangal root
      1 TBL ginger root
      12 green chilies - thai peppers or serranos
      6 cloves garlic
      1/2 cup onion finely chopped
      2 cup Granulated sugar
      2 cup water
      1/4 cup fish sauce
       
      1. Rinse off eggplant and pierce with a knife - or cut in half if larger than 3/4 inch in diameter.
       
      2. Put eggplant into jar and add salt - and water to top of jar.  Cover with plastic lid and cover loosely.  Let ferment for 7 days.
       
      3. Take out eggplant and drain.  Rinse with water.  Put into jars again.
       
      4. Chop ginger, galangal, chiles, onion, and garlic.
       
      5. Boil water and sugar, add spices and onion, and heat for 5 minutes.  Add fish sauce.
       
      6. Pour over eggplants making sure the spices and onion get all around (might have to take out some eggplant and return).
       
      7. Cover with plastic lid, and refrigerate.
       
      8. Ready in several days.  Will last a very long time in the refrigerator.
       
      Notes:  Good alongside other SE Asian dishes, or even alone with rice.  The green tomatoes are not the same texture as the eggplants, but are quite good.  The eggplants are very crispy.
       
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