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The Mongolian Miracle

March 15, 2000|CHARLES PERRY

In the '70s, Americans took to something called "Mongolian barbecue," which was basically meat (your pick: beef, pork, chicken) stir-fried with onions, sprouts and vegetables, then dashed with soy sauce and hot sauce. Hey, what's going on here? This wasn't barbecuing, and it wasn't even Mongolian.

For starters, the Mongols never fry their food; they don't even have frying pans. They boil it in a caldron-like pot, or they stick it directly into the fire.

As for the ingredients, some Mongols raise cattle, but until this century pigs were extremely rare in Mongolia--they're too slow on their feet for serious herding. So much for the pork, and can you imagine herding a flock of chickens? Mongols do herd camels and, in the northernmost parts of Mongolia, reindeer, but mostly they raise sheep, goats and horses.

They're connoisseurs of every part of the horse, too, including the lump of fat right under the mane. For that matter, they're great connoisseurs of every kind of fat, for the same reason that the Eskimos are: the bitterly cold climate. The average Mongol eats a pound of butter a day without gaining weight.

Finally, a nomad's wealth is his flocks, so the Mongols have always considered vegetables to be desperation food, with the shameful implication that you're a flop in the herding department. The only traditional vegetable in their diet is dried onions (mangira).

In fact (doctors, cover your eyes), the real Mongolian diet is almost entirely vegetable- and fiber-free. Now, if only Mongols were inspirationally long-lived, somebody might develop the Mongolian Miracle Diet.

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