“To eat a little is to live splendidly.” ~ Sumerian proverb
Grind the silphium, baste the hedgehog and pass the flamingo. It’s time to talk about the food and food culture of the ancient world.
Did you know that the Ancient Romans started the custom of eating salad before a main course? Did you know that the Aztecs were eating spirulina tacos long before the algae was touted as a superfood, or that the dietary staple of the Ancient Near East was a sour beer so lumpy it had to be drunk through a straw? The history of food is filled with incredible stories of human diversity and ingenuity, as well as plenty of unexpected connections to the modern world.
I have long been fascinated by the history of our daily lives: how ancient humans spoke, dressed, lived and ate. No matter what else changes, our most basic human needs stay the same, which makes them an excellent pathway into understanding the lives of people who lived long ago. We may never attend a human sacrifice or fight lions in an arena or make war against the Elamites, but hey! We’ve all gotta eat. My goal: to use the universally-appealing medium of cooking to get people excited about societies and cultures long-gone.
Not every recipe or ingredient I will feature on this blog is technically ancient, but everything is from a society that doesn’t exist anymore, even if that people’s descendants and the remnants of their culture are still with us. I’ll try out recipes from diverse sources; ancient Chinese cookbooks, Spanish accounts of the Mexican conquest, Egyptian tomb reliefs. To me, both food and history are all about stories, and I’ll share some of my favorites as I go. Sometimes I might have to make educated guesses, or modifications where I lack access to what ancient peoples would have had (wood-burning stove, dormouse meat, etc). I hope you’ll enjoy my ongoing investigations and be inspired to bring a little piece of the past into your modern life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andrew Coletti is an educator who has worked with learners of all ages in museums and schools, teaching everything from math to English to art. He holds a Bachelors degree in Classics from Bard College and a Masters in Museum Education from Bank Street College of Education. You can find him teaching classes on ancient food (and sharing some) at the Brooklyn Brainery and around New York City. Follow him @passtheflamingo on Instagram and Twitter.