The Mongols created the world’s second largest empire. Their cavalry were a fearsome sight as they headed westwards to invade Russia and Eastern Europe. What most impressed the peasants around Kazan was the soldiers’ dexterity on horseback both with bows and arrows and with swords.
One day a peasant discovered a discarded Mongol sword and quickly found out how sharp it was. Once he stopped the bleeding his practical streak emerged and he realized that he could cut most of the vegetables from his garden very easily with the sharp blade. Only the larger potatoes were still difficult to cut, however, the peasant then had a brainwave – if he were sitting on a horse then he would be able to swing a lot harder and with more force and cut the potato in two.
He borrowed his neighbour’s carthorse and sure enough the extra height allowed the sword to cut through the largest potatoes with relative ease – the only problem now was ensuring that the sword didn’t become embedded in the table. As is the way of these things, the neighbour saw the peasant’s technique for cutting the vegetables and thought he could improve upon it. Thus, a competition was born that has lasted until the modern day.
The first contest in 1263 was held amongst the citizens of Kazan. In turn, each contestant had to ride up to the table on their own horse and slice ten beetroot and ten potatoes in half making sure that their steed was always moving forwards. The results of the first few contests have been lost but the winner in 1273 was Alexis Yashin who not only sliced all the vegetables in half but did so the most accurately according to the Slicing Judges.
The contest was made more difficult in 1309 when a second table of vegetables was introduced – 20 beetroots and 20 potatoes now had to be sliced. In 1458, carrots and courgettes were added in a second contest where the winner was the person who cut the carrots and courgettes into the most separate pieces. In 1684, cucumbers and tomatoes were added in a third contest where not only did the vegetables have to be cut from top to bottom but also lengthwise too. These extra contests still required the cutter to be riding a horse.
In 1923, the judges decided that a precision element should be introduced into the contest so peas and red beans were added. Again riding a horse the contestants had to split the ten peas and ten red beans into two separate pieces with their swords.
By now the Kazan contest was known throughout the world and was popular with chefs who were keen to gain extra publicity for their food preparation exploits. One particular three-star Michelin restaurant chef holds the record for cutting a courgette into 45 separate pieces while riding a horse. Unfortunately, he was disqualified because he used his own brand of kitchen knife and not the Mongol sword as stipulated in the rules.