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My friend Ragan and I crossed the Mongolian Desert for a week eating nothing but pickled cabbage, potatoes and the occasional found bag of crushed airline pretzels. As each day progressed and another plate of vinegar-marinated vegetables was consumed, our thoughts became overtaken by piles of nachos, golden cheesy pizzas and jam-slathered croissants.

 

It’s not that we didn’t know what we were getting into, but meal after meal of drinking salty yak-milk tea and eating pickled vegetables that came shrink-wrapped or canned from China and Russia, well, it begins to ignite the craving circuits in one’s brain and you find yourself bargaining with the patron saint of gastronomy.

 

Then, after a week of praying for a culinary miracle, right there on Day Eight of traveling through Mongolia my supplications were heard. I’d like to believe.

 

On this particular Monday our tour group rolled into barren Western Mongolia.  Our encampment for the night was in Karakorum, the ancient capitol of Chinggis Khan’s 13th century Mongol empire.

Ger camps in Karakoram, Mongolia

Ominous weather blew in, though I believe it was the pizza fates, answering my prayers.

Immediately it felt different. Dark clouds hung low in the sky, heavy with rain, electricity and a supernatural chill. It was movie weather, the kind that signaled a child-parent body swapping episode or the discovery of a time traveling car. On this particular day it was the backdrop for the fates to deal us a different dinner.

 

A brief perusal of my Lonely Planet: Mongolia guide turned up a listing for a pizza-serving ger camp somewhere in this small town. Let me repeat myself: THERE WAS PIZZA HERE. I now could think of nothing else. No amount of sightseeing in Karakorum could distract me from my escalating mania. Not the outdoor market selling soviet trinkets, not the herd of adorable goats eating weeds around the stupa-topped city walls or even the giant penis carved from rock could divert my thoughts.

It was fairly easy to convince Ragan that we must break away from our group and own this pizza. If what I had been reading was true, the key to reviving our taste buds was at a ger camp aptly titled DREAMLAND, which, I had sleuthed, happened to be the next camp over.

 

Pickled bean curd at ger camps in Karakorum Mongolia

This was actually pretty good, but once you have pizza on the brain…

Fidgeting at our tour’s group dinner, we smiled and pushed pickled bean curd around on our plates, politely making dinner conversation. We did our best not to tip our hand about our after-dinner activities, lest we somehow jinx this plan by sharing it. I didn’t know how the magical pizza gods would feel about that.

 

 

 

 

Once the desserts had been freed from their plastic wrappers we knew it was time to answer the siren’s call and set out to discover if there really was a golden-crusted cheesy trophy in these parts. We said goodnight, and grabbed a bottle of red wine for the journey. We needed fortification for what we were about to undertake. And also a decent pizza pairing.

Juliana Dever on a mission to find pizza in Karakorum Mongolia

Hold my wine, no fence will stop me from finding you, glorious pizza.

 

According to our keen orienteering skills, the way to Dreamland appeared to be over a wooden fence, across a dried riverbed and through a barrier of trees. Wine glasses in hand we began our extraordinary journey. The sun was getting ready to clock out for the day, prompting us to quicken our pace across a riverbed filled with scampering critters and the occasional skull.

 

We made out voices and pressed forward toward our long-awaited Italian dinner. But something was off; we were coming up not on a pizzeria but on a windowless building and what appeared to be a basketball court. We bravely pushed on until we were face to face with a handful of teenage boys engaged in a game that resembled basketball. As we approached they came to an abrupt halt and stared at us, two women, not of this world, especially with those wine glasses in hand.

 

“Is this Dreamland?” Ragan asked.

 

The boys stared, possibly asking themselves the same question.

 

“Do you have PETE-SUH?” I articulated hard.

 

One of the teenagers gestured for us to go back the way we had come.

Ragan with wine on the hunt for pizza in Karakorum Mongolia

Ragan always makes everything look so classy.

Undeterred, we carried on and forged across the bone yard. We both saw the hand-painted sign indicating the way to Dreamland at the same time, and I swear the opening licks of “Hotel California” started to swirl around us. Was this real life?

Juliana Dever pre pizza wine

I mean, at this point, do I need my liver? Mulling over my options in case this is a trap. A gooey, delicious pizza trap that i never want to get out of.

We began to wonder if this was a trap. Was it a setup to lure famished pizza-lovers inside, only to kidnap them for scientific tests or organ harvesting? I mean, how did we know?

The entrance to Dreamland loomed large in front of us. Flanked with concrete lions and carnival-like signage it looked either ominous or jaunty, depending on your level of natural-born pessimism. We took a deep breath, clasped hands and soldiered forward for we were brave of heart and hungry of stomach.

 

Dreamland Karakorum Mongolia

We briefly considered if we should turn around, this was quite the elaborate set-up for a camp in these parts. Unless it was a trap.

 

At first it seemed we had once again stumbled into the wrong place. A guard sat inside a little booth and start calling out to us in Mongolian. Were we trespassing? Or maybe we should have booked a table? Or perhaps he was saying, “Don’t go in, it’s a trap!” But melty cheese drowned him out and we ran past his small wooden hut. He retreated back to his seat. He tried.

 

We now found ourselves amidst a tree-enclosed camp. Groups of Asians stopped and stared at us, perhaps it was the way we had triumphantly burst onto the scene or the crazed crust-craving look in our eyes. Were we interrupting something? Or was this the moment when we were supposed to realize that we were yet another couple of victims who had fallen for the whole “there’s pizza in Dreamland” ploy?

Pizza in Dreamland Karakorum Mongolia

I mean…this is legit, right? Or have my tired taste buds clouded my judgement?

 

 

 

A man approached us and I began to believe we had potentially made a foolish choice, the greedy Hansel and Gretel of our tour group.

 

“Welcome to Dreamland.” He smiled like a Mongolian Ricardo Montalban.

 

Feeling a lot like Oliver in that opening scene of the movie, I dropped my chin and looked at him directly.

 

“Please sir, we’d like some…pizza.”

 

He stared quietly and studied us.

 

He directed into us into a large round tent.

 

Dreamland - sumo wrestlers and men wearing Mongolian wrestling bikinis

Yep, there were about 50 photographs lining the walls inside of the tent. We chose to eat outside.

It was a restaurant. Photos of sumo wrestlers and men wearing Mongolian wrestling bikinis lined the walls. A chef sat at a table watching TV. So close, we were so very close to our moment of truth.

 

In a mix of broken English and Russian punctuated with charades I asked once again for pizza. I got bold, and asked for mushrooms. He smiled.

 

“No! We cannot make the mushroom! Not the pizza!”

 

Time froze. Life’s meaning ground to a halt. I felt like Dorothy bringing that burnt-out broom to the wizard only to be told he couldn’t help her. We had come all this way, Shiraz in hand, following a dream and a carbohydrate craving. We had taken a big leap of faith that night; forgone bean curds and pickled cabbage and now had nothing but a protein bar to offer our hunger pangs as a reward for this fool’s errand.

 

“Tomatoes and pepper okay!”

 

The crowd went wild. Or at least Ragan and I did. I’m fairly sure it resembled two contestants winning a game show. We were about to have ACTUAL, REAL PIZZA! I’ve never wanted to hug a guidebook so much in my life. Lonely Planet: Mongolia…how can I ever thank you?

Finding pizza in Dreamland Karakorum Mongolia

This was either the best dream ever or what I had for dinner this night. Either way, I don’t care.

That night we reveled in the gooey cheese strings that stretched from each slice as we pulled it away from the mother pie. Tomato sauce rolled across our taste buds like a red carpet and those fresh peppers sashayed across our tongues. This hot, crusty pizza was ours, right here in a town so remote, beyond an empty Mongolian landscape a day away from the nearest city. This was black magic and I’m not sure what I’ve agreed to in return, but I was prepared to pay it.

 

Later that night, after a harrowing trek through Karakorum in absolute pitch black back to our own camp (damn it, why didn’t we bring our flashlights?), we lay in our ger and listened to the sound of rain on our roof. Did Dreamland really exist? Did we conjure that glorious pizza party out of delirium and taste bud meltdown or did it actually happen? We drifted off to sleep, huge smiles on our faces.

If Dreamland was just a dream, please, nobody ever tell us otherwise.

Pizza and wine - Dreamland Karakorum Mongolia

I think it was Thoreau who said “Go confidently in the direction of your pizza!” or something pretty darn close.

 

Travel Pinterest - Clever Dever Wherever

Pizza in Mongolia | What to Eat in Mongolia | Ger Camps | Stay in a Yurt

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About the Author

Hi. I’m Juliana Dever and according to science I have some sort of "exploration" gene. Embracing this compulsion, I spend a lot of time hurtling around the planet in metal tubes experiencing other cultures and writing humorous essays about it. Enjoy.

11 Comments

  1. Janet / March 10, 2016 at 12:58 pm /Reply

    Excellent! My husband and I travelled a lot in the past, but not to most of the places you have written about, and I really enjoy reading your posts. Also look forward to your upcoming appearance on Castle. Keep up the good work.

    • Juliana Dever / March 15, 2016 at 10:46 am /Reply

      Thanks so much Janet! I’m so happy you’re ‘traveling’ around with me! Lots more to come on both the traveling and Castle front, stay tuned. 🙂

  2. Teresa / March 11, 2016 at 9:48 pm /Reply

    So I’m guessing vegan pizza is maybe not going to be an option for me? (Looks delicious!). I do love that you took your wine with you.

    • Juliana Dever / March 15, 2016 at 10:44 am /Reply

      You’ve guessed correctly, Teresa. But at every ger camp we stopped at, we did have vegetables. I would still suggest you bring some supplemental food. I mean, you’re heading to Mongolia soon, right? 😉

  3. Shena / March 25, 2016 at 11:18 am /Reply

    Man… Your worldly adventures intrigue me and make me howl with laughter! Thanks for sharing, Juliana. (Now I want pizza.)

    Note to self: Always bring a flashlight with me.

    • Juliana Dever / March 25, 2016 at 6:47 pm /Reply

      Howling is good! Also: always bring a flashlight, you never know when you’ll need it!

  4. Shelley / March 25, 2016 at 11:39 am /Reply

    Great,I was right there anxiously waiting that first bite of pizza with you. LOL! You guys certainly earned it!! I love travel, although I have not done to much. And none outside america. But, I have always wanted to go to see the Eiffel Tower. Now, with all the dangers in the world it scares me to travel. So In will follow you vicariously. Love you and Kevin. You are so cute together and I can hardly wait for baby number two!!! ☺

    • Juliana Dever / March 25, 2016 at 6:48 pm /Reply

      Love that you enjoyed my great pizza caper! I hope you get to see the Eiffel Tower one day, it really is beautiful.

  5. Michael / April 11, 2016 at 10:15 pm /Reply

    This may be one of the greatest adventure stories ever told and the treasure, damn, that pizza looks so good and I only just made pizza three nights ago!

    • Juliana Dever / April 12, 2016 at 6:20 pm /Reply

      Ha! Thanks Mike. The quest is always worth it when the reward is pizza.

  6. mongolian 4 seasion / June 18, 2018 at 3:22 am /Reply

    I really loved your post and the visual you have shared with us. I just fell in love with these tour sites.
    I got good idea and information regarding beautiful nature and mongolian4seasons tour.
    Thank you so much.thank you for share this post.

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