The second secret weapon of the Mongols was that they lived off their horses: the meat, the milk, cheese and the blood, if they needed. This high protein diet gave them much more energy than their Chinese and European enemies who were “falling asleep on their diet of rice, pasta and porridge. Of course these pasta-eaters were easy prey for the meat-eating Mongols,” according to one of the authors I read.

This is definitely food for thought today. How do vegetarians compare in healthfulness to those who eat meat? Do they have as much energy as their carnivorous friends? I have actually felt more energized, since giving up red meat/veal/pork decades ago. But maybe my protein intake from fowl and fish gives me more than enough protein.

Here is the section on the Mongol warrior’s diet from a different book…including the origin of steak tartar!

“A Mongol warrior ate large quantities of meat, milk and yogurt. Thanks to this high-protein diet, they were robust men with healthy teeth and strong bones.

“According to Marco Polo, each Mongol warrior traveled with a supply of dried meat and dried curd that made lighting a cooking fire unnecessary—he could eat these rations while riding. In addition, every warrior had 10 pounds of milk dried down to a paste. By mixing a handful with water, he had a high-protein meal that could sustain him all day.

“Polo also tells us that if a Mongol were lucky enough to get fresh meat, but had no opportunity to cook it, he placed it under his saddle to tenderize it for eating later. This is said to be the origin of steak Tartar (Tartar being a name the Europeans used interchangeably for the Mongols.)

“The peasant conscripts who fought for the Chinese on the other hand, lived almost entirely on a carbohydrate diet of various types of grains usually boiled down to a soupy gruel. The lack of protein stunted their growth, weakened their bones, rotted their teeth, sapped their energy and made them susceptible to illness.

“An adult metabolism burns through carbohyrates quickly, and an army of infantry on the move even more so. If a Chinese infantryman had to go without rations, within a day or two he would be weak from hunger. The protein-fed Mongol on the other hand, could fast for a day or two with his strength barely diminished. If necessary he would renew his strength by making a small incision in his horse’s neck and drinking its blood.”