Describing the Mongolian dining car will be a short exercise as for most of the journey through Mongolia, there wasn’t one. From Irkutsk to Ulan-Baatar we relied mostly on supplies bought in Irkutsk. We stocked up on bottled water, orange juice, biscuits, beer, yogurts and also a few “instant” meal pots that only required the addition of hot water. We bought some instant noodles but a couple pots turned out to be instant mash potato, which was a little strange but not totally unappetizing.
Four painfully slow hours after leaving Irkutsk the train reached Lake Baikal at midnight. At this station, vendors patrolled the platform with buckets of smoked Omul fish. I’d been foolish enough not to buy any in Listvianka so you can imagine my joy when I was presented with this final chance to try some before the train turned south towards Mongolia. For a few rubles, I purchased one Omul fish without even leaving the train. I took it back to our cabin and made short work of it. Its taste was reminiscent of mackerel and all the better as it was enjoyed with a crisp Russian beer.
Once the train reached the Russian-Mongolian border we hunted around for a shop in which to spend our remaining rubles and resorted to buying more biscuits and other unhealthy snacks to see us through to Ulan Baatar.
A Mongolian dining car was eventually attached for the stretch from Ulan-Baatar to the Chinese border. It was incredibly ornate with carved wooden partitions and red and gold seats. Sadly we didn’t have a chance to dine there as the over-efficient service on Train 024 included a boxed lunch at noon, which was delivered directly to our room. The meal included an improvised club sandwich constructed out of 3-4 slices of white bread with layers of tomato, cucumber, salami and lashings of mayonnaise. In addition there was an assortment of pickled carrots, cabbage and red pepper as well as two blocks of rice, seaweed sushi and a piece of breaded fish in a gravy sauce that tasted like kidney! It was definitely a curious collection of bites but it held me over until we reached the border.
The next morning and we were in China and the exquisite Mongolian dining car had been left behind and replaced with the Chinese car. What the carriage lacked in beauty however, it made up for in cuisine. We ordered two plates of sweet and sour pork with rice and two cups of tea. It was the first truly tasty meal we had received on any train and was a sign of things to come in China. The sauce was less sweet and the batter less stodgy than the western equivalent but this was a good thing. The bill for the two of us came to reasonable $8 and once our dishes were cleared away we were invited to vacate our seats, as this was one dining car doing swift business and they needed our table.