Mongo Mongo Mongolian Barbecue
Restaurant Review by Ken Stewart, The Guam Food Guy
One of my challenges as the "food guy" has been to find places where I can eat foods that are healthy, tasty, filling, and fun, since sometimes "healthy" eating can be comparatively bland, yet still appealing. I also get confused by having too many eating options, as is the case with Food Courts. That's when a family of eight can satisfy each member's taste preference simultaneously in one sitting! Well, some of you already know about Mongo Mongo Mongolian Barbeque, however, for those who've never been there, you will soon be surprised at how this place stands apart from the other fast food outlets in GPO's Food Court.
The idea of Mongolian Barbeque started when the great Ghengis Khan had just conquered a country populated by vegetable farmers. As a tribute to the new conquering forces, the farmers brought their harvest of assorted vegetables to a banquet feast for the Great Khan, whose forces were traditionally meat eaters with rice on the side. Well, (so the story goes), the cooks were grilling up the meats on large metal discs over huge open flames, using oils and spices for flavoring. One of the farmers carrying a large basket of mixed vegetables accidentally tripped on a stone and spilled the contents of his basket on the meat grill! This caused quite a stir, and everyone was shocked at this break from the ceremony's tradition! The vegetables sizzled and crackled along with the meat and oil, as as the cook's frantically tried to remove the vegetables and meat combination to discard it, the Great Khan, who was sitting nearby, ordered that some of this new mixture be brought to him...and voila, the rest is history!!!
OK, OK, so I exaggerated a little...but the honest truth is that once you've eaten this great blend of fresh veggies, meats, and sauces, all grilled together, you'll always remember it as one that kept your taste buds buzzing!
Mongo Mongo is easily visible with it's huge, oversize purple arch with bright neon green traced letters "Mongo Mongo" over a neon golden yellow "Mongolian Barbeque" just above the entrance. Just beneath, a big banner advertises "Chicken, 5 Vegetables & Rice for $5.99". Walking in you'll see a food counter with a glass covered canopy (sneeze guard) that houses chilled full-size hotel pans containing the following fresh vegetables that are cut up and sliced for grilling: onions, carrots, cabbage, bean sprouts, kang kong (not to be confused with King Kong, kang kong is a Chinese spinach), celery, scallions (green onions), baby corn, Chinese cabbage (sweeter than Western cabbage), mushrooms, blanched broccoli spears, and pineapple. Continuing in the line up, you'll find sliced beef (looks like rib-eye), chicken thigh meat, pork, shrimp in ice water, and tofu squares.
A white sign above this food counter proclaims "5 Vegetables and 1 Meat - $6.99". Suni Kim smiled at me from behind the counter as I exclaimed, "I want everything!!!" As I called out my ingredients, she used tongs to start filling a large round plastic plate. I had seven vegetables (all but mushrooms and baby corn, and no pineapple). Each additional vegetable is .50, which is a great value considering the price of vegetables and the size of her portions.
Then I asked for chicken as my meat selection ($5.99), then added 2 shrimp (@ $.75 ea.), and 2 tofu slices ( a $1.00 order has 4 pieces, so they are $.25 ea.) The plate was piled about 9 inches high with veggies, the chicken, shrimp, and tofu!! I figured that was enough - there was no more room on the plate nor air space!!! I ordered a small water bottle to complete my order and paid $10.24.
I was handed my plate and then I moved down the line to the "dripping station," which was home of the sauces, seasonings, and spices! It's an impressive line up, with 10 ice buckets (tabletop champagne buckets - the fancy stainless steel ones with the gold plated handles) filled with sauces and blends identified by name cards posted below. There was "Soy Sauce," "Sesame Oil," "Garlic Oil," "Hot Oil" (oil mixed with Red Chili Pepper Paste),"Vinegar," "Sugar Water," "Garlic Water," "Ginger Oil," "Finadene," and "Jalapenos." Containers of salt, black pepper and granulated garlic were also available for further seasoning. Well, I didn't waste any time using the ladles to marinate my plate with most of these ingredients (no Jalapenos, nor Sugar Water).
I slid my plate through the opening in the window on the kitchen counter to the cook, who took it and gave me a number tag for my order. He then separated the meat from the vegetables to cook it first on the large griddle (there are two grill top ranges). After the meat and vegetables are cooked and mixed thoroughly, they are then placed in a styrofoam tray along with 2 large scoops of rice (more than I am able to eat now). This plate is placed on a tray with a napkin, some finadene in a small container, and a napkin-wrapped plastic fork and knife. I just used chopsticks...I'm afraid I'll eat my knife and fork as rapidly as I consume this steaming, aromatic feast!!!
The best thing about this type of meal for me is the amount and variety of vegetables I can have, especially mixed with the garlic, sesame, ginger, soy, and vinegar sauces, with just enough meat to stroke my canines!! It is so satisfying and filling!!
Opened in September 1998 by Sonia Han, who also owns the Imperial Garden Restaurant chain with outlets in the GPO Food Court, the Micronesia Mall, and in Mangilao, Mongo Mongo Mongolian Barbeque has become a favorite among locals. I've talked to numerous customers who all enjoy the food there, and like it because it's fresh, and you can add your own sauces to create your own special mixture. People like to have some control and participation in determining the desired outcome of their meals. Sonia wanted to create a different concept for fast food, and not open the typical hot line, pre-cooked fast food buffet-type service. She did a lot of research for this particular fast food formula, and it worked. It takes less than five minutes to select your meal ingredients, season it to your liking, and have it grilled and ready to eat. Vegetarians find this an acceptable dining experience, however, I've heard some concerns raised about the griddles having meat cooked on the same surface that vegetables are cooked on. Perhaps having a separate wok available for pure vegetarians could inexpensively solve this problem.
All said though, Mongo Mongo Barbeque is a fast, fresh, and fun dining experience, and is open seven days a week from 10 am to 9:00 pm. Since so many Guam residents have adopted "stir fry" as almost a local traditon (chop steak or chicken), Mongo Mongo has found a niche, satisfying cravings and urges for meats and fresh vegetables, cooked and seasoned your way!!