Advantages You really can eat as much as you want!
Disadvantages Drinks are a bit pricey
When a trip to the Mongolian barbecue was suggested, my initial response was, “What the hell is it?” Well, apparently there is some historical background to this very different sort of restaurant – although quite how true to the past the modern day experience is, remains open to question. I am led to believe that after a hard week’s marauding, plundering and pillaging, the Mongol hordes would retire to a banquet, presumably held in a giant ceremonial yurt somewhere out on the steppes. There, there would be much roistering, a great fire would be made, and the mighty warriors would carve themselves strips of meat, and fry them on their upturned shields.I don’t know how much of that is true, and I have to admit that a trip to the Han Mongolian Barbecue is (thankfully) nothing like it. What you do have is a very enjoyable and filling night out, at prices that won’t break the bank, which is a rarity in Switzerland. I’ve been to the restaurants in Zurich and Basel-Riehen, and experience suggests that you should book in advance if you plan to eat there on a Friday or Saturday night, as this chain of eateries is rapidly gaining in popularity and both venues have been busy when I have visited.
There are branches of the Han chain in 9 towns across Switzerland, and the Zurich restaurant is easy to find. It is situated at Langstrasse 192 – which is pretty much in the middle of the red-light district, but have no fear, there are no ‘personal services’ on the menu at Han! Public transport is the best way to get about in Zurich, so just get the tram 4 or 13 to Limmatplatz, and the Mongolian is about 5 minutes walk down Langstrasse, on the left just before the underpass beneath the railway lines.The layout and concept in all branches is basically the same – a modern portrait of a Mongol warrior stares down from the walls, and there are plenty of tables and chairs set around a large buffet laden with salad, vegetables and frozen meat and fish. There is a large open grilling area in the corner, and the basic idea is simple: You pile a plate high with as much meat, fish and vegetables as you like, pour on a marinade or two, and then take it to the grill, where one of the chefs then cooks it in front of you on the sizzling platter. There is a full drinks menu as well, but the trick is not to drink too much, or too quickly, and not to wolf down your food – just take it nice and easy.
Then you add rice, and any more sauces if you fancy, sit down and devour what has just been cooked, and repeat as many times as humanly possible! It couldn’t be any easier. You can go back as many times as you like, and take whatever you want, the only rule being that you have to clear one plate of food before you take another. The best way to enjoy the Mongolian barbecue is to take advantage of the ‘Menu a discrétion’ deal – you get a bowl of chicken and vegetable soup (very similar to a Chinese soup), some sesame bread and a small bowl of shredded cucumber and onions in a spicy, sweet and sour sauce. Then you eat as much from the buffet as you can manage, and there is a massive selection to choose from.The food on offer varies according to the season, but generally the list of meats is as follows: Beef, venison, pork, ostrich, springbok, horse, lamb, duck, turkey, chicken. Yes, you can eat horsemeat. Now I know that many British people are appalled by this, but personally I think it tastes very nice, a more tender alternative to beef in many cases. This meat is freely available in Belgium, France and Switzerland, and can still be found in some butchers in Germany, and if you’ve never tried it, then I recommend giving it a go. That said, if you really don’t fancy it, then no-one’s going to force you to eat it.
There is always plenty of fresh fish available too, including: Halibut, snapper, squid, crab, and mussels, to name but a few. Then you can garnish your choices with all sorts of salad and vegetables, before choosing from the marinades next to the grill: Barbecue, curry, pepper, lemon, ginger and garlic. Then you pile on the rice and take your pick from mustard, sweet and sour, coriander, tartare or cocktail sauces on top – or go for the chillies in oil if you’re feeling up to it!Basically, whatever you like to eat, you’ll find it here – and in volume enough to satisfy even the most voracious of appetites. The ‘menu a discrétion’ is good value at 39.99 CHF (about 18 pounds), but drinks are quite expensive, as a small beer will set you back about 3 quid. However, most restaurants in Switzerland are almost prohibitively expensive unless you are on Swiss wages (or have taken plenty of francs with you), so the Han chain represents extremely good value for money. Even better news is that their New Year 2003 special offer means that the menu deal is reduced to 29.99 CHF (Monday-Thursday only, until February 6th). There are plenty of similar places springing up in Britain now too – I’ve heard of Mongolian restaurants in Covent Garden, Manchester and Reading, so with any luck you should be able to find one fairly easily – and if they’re as good as Han, it’s definitely worth searching!
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