Horse Jerky, the Perfect Drunken Food

Russia

After another night in a field, we awake ravenous.

“Warm. Anything warm,” Andrew says.

Towns and restaurants are sparse. Food options are limited to gas stations outfitted with cafés. We stop at a tire shop and ask the grease monkeys which restaurant’s best. They point us toward a circular eatery that looks like a disco.

The ceiling is mirrored. Blue-and-white curtains sweep across the windows. And the waitress is wearing a low-cut cocktail dress and flip-flops.

The menu features pictures, saving us from the chore of translating. Nonetheless, this doesn’t make ordering easier. Most dishes contain mysterious meats cut into matchstick form, as well as pickled vegetables and sprinklings of dill. We desire eggs, but “nyet,” the waitress says.

What’s the ideal Russian breakfast replacement? We let the waitress choose. In a few minutes we receive several browned blini, topped with a dollop of sour cream.

“At least they’re not burned,” is the best compliment Mims can offer.

A plate full of soft potatoes arrives topped with pickles, radishes, cheese, and round slices of gray tongue. It’s sloppy and bland, and we shove the tongue nibs to the plate’s distant corner. The meal’s standout is the rolled blini. They contain an unlikely mélange of mayonnaise, salami, cheese, and radishes, with dill showering everything. It’s eastern Russia’s answer to a loaded omelet, and it leaves my belly warm and stuffed. In the increasingly chilly Siberian countryside, this is a blessing.

Post-breakfast, we run into a fellow Mongol Rally team.

“You need to go fast. The Mongolian border shuts at 6 p.m.,” says a member of the Italian, Fiat-driving Team Orca.

We are about 300 miles from the border. It’s noon. We zoom forward at an accelerated pace, unable to stop for lunch. Luckily, we have dried provisions that have been waiting for us since Kazakhstan.

“Pass me the horse jerky,” I tell Mims, who hands me a package depicting a Genghis Khan–like figure riding a horse. Elegance is written across its bottom, as well as the words fat free. Prominent chile pepper graphics signify spiciness.

I insert an exploratory strip into my mouth. It’s tough as leather, chewy as taffy, salty as an ocean, and pleasantly spicy. But with each chunk, I envision a montage of famous horses past and present: Mister Ed, Barbaro, Flicka, the Lone Ranger’s heroic Silver.

“Now I know why they don’t have this in America,” Mims says, putting his half-eaten pieces back into the bag. “That’s enough horse for me for one day.”

We miss the border crossing and are forced to camp. We light a bonfire and, later that night, under the influence of alcohol, horse jerky becomes the perfect drunken snack. Not a single scrap is left.