Greco-Persian Dinner

IMG_7366

“This is the display of the inquiry of Herodotus of Halicarnassus, so that things done by man not be forgotten in time, and that great and marvelous deeds, some displayed by the Hellenes [Greeks], some by the barbarians [non-Greeks], not lose their glory, including among others what was the cause of their waging war on each other.”

~ Opening line of Herodotus’s Histories, 5th century BCE  

Two wars in the 5th century BCE might seem like an unusual theme for a dinner party, but  the Greco-Persian Wars are among the most momentous events ever in ancient history. Faced with a common enemy, the fractious city-states of Greece were forced to unite for the first time as they fought for independence from the largest empire in the world. The Wars helped define the distinct quality of “Greekness” (Hellenikon) and set the stage for the flowering of Greek art, government and literature that would inspire later cultures up to the present day. They also helped seed our modern division of the world’s cultures into “East” vs. “West.” Herodotus, a Greek who grew up in the Persian Empire and whose home city played an important role in the conflict, devoted his life to researching the cause behind the Wars. The modern study of history, and even the word itself, are derived from the text Herodotus titled his Inquiries (Historiai), because it represented his inquiry into that most basic of loaded questions: “why don’t we get along?”

Luckily, there was nothing but harmony in the air last night at the Greek restaurant Nerai in Manhattan, which hosted a very special event in collaboration with myself and Eklektikon Wines. Together we developed an ancient-inspired menu, with Greek natural wine pairings drawn from ancient traditions.

To represent the conflict, we chose to serve Ancient Greek and Ancient Persian-inspired food side by side for each course. The restaurant’s chef spun off from our initial ideas to create recipes within the realm of what would have been possible for ancient chefs. Except for the refined sugar in the candied walnuts, all the ingredients are authentically ancient. Though we don’t have as much documentation of the Ancient Persian diet as the Ancient Greek one, the Persian side of the menu was informed by modern Persian cuisine as well as Ancient Greek sources like Xenophon’s Cyropaedia (a biography of the Persian conqueror Cyrus the Great) and the grocery lists of the Persian royal kitchens. This blog was one online source that provided a lot of useful background information.

I was so excited to see this event come together. Huge thanks to Nerai, Eklektikon, and to everyone who came and ate!

IMG_7367IMG_7369IMG_7371IMG_7373IMG_7377IMG_7380IMG_7384IMG_7397IMG_7388

One-Year Blog Anniversary

Image result for ides of march

“Why, this is violence!”
~Some of Caesar’s last words, said when one conspirator grabbed Caesar’s clothing to signal the others to attack

March 15th, 44 BCE: Roman politician Gaius Julius Caesar is fatally stabbed 23 times by a conspiracy within the Roman Senate who fear his increasing power.

March 15th, 2017 CE (2062 years later): A descendant of ancient and modern Romans* starts a blog about the food of his ancestors, beginning with a substitute waterfowl.

Yes, I started this blog on the Ides of March, anniversary of Caesar’s assassination. I was born on the anniversary of Cicero’s assassination (December 7th, which is also Pearl Harbor Day), so it all works out. In honor of this momentous occasion, here’s my first post, in which I passed myself the titular flamingo, which was actually a duck, because, well, life isn’t perfect.

Thanks so much to everyone who has visited and followed Pass the Flamingo over this past year! Whether you’ve read one of my posts or all of them, I appreciate your support so much. Here’s to another year of ancient food history! Expect more recipes, more experiments, and more flash fiction. In fact, here’s some of that last one.

***

The queen took a bite of roast flamingo and winced. Sweet dates, bitter rue, pungent silphion against the strong flavor of the meat itself. Overpowering, an assault on the nostrils. She had never been fond of Roman-style cooking. Not on her first trip here, when she was a child following her exiled father, and not now. Yet they insisted on serving it to her. Nobody in Italy could recreate the flavors of Egypt, even if it was one of Egypt’s great rosy birds that now lay before her, flayed and sauced and spiced. She should have brought her own chefs from Alexandria, but Gaius had wanted to take care of everything. He loved to do things for her. Maybe he saw in her his long-lost daughter, even though she was a queen and a living god. Even though her son by Gaius was already learning to crawl. 

She was well-cared for, in truth. She and her servants had the run of the whole villa. She was invited to every banquet and function, she had gotten to meet all the most important people of Rome, senators, consuls and generals and their wives, even if most of them couldn’t stand her. Gaius had placed a statue of her in his family temple, beside the shrine to Venus. His wife had not been in attendance that day to see it, and the queen was glad of it. 

She knew what was whispered about her in the streets of this foreign city. She saw the way the Romans looked at her and her son, how vicious Fulvia and that ponce Cicero tittered to each other behind their fans, switching suddenly from Greek to Latin so that she couldn’t understand. Sometimes she felt like a flamingo herself: a proud and beautiful plumed thing, served up for the people of Rome to feast on.

From the corridor outside came the sound of running feet. She looked towards her doorway, puzzled.

“Where is the queen?” someone was shouting. “Where is Queen Cleopatra?! There has been news, from the Forum–” 


* My father was born in Rome, and my known family history is 100% Italian (with some of the Balkans mixed in way back, according to my DNA results from 23andme). I like to think I’m descended from Cicero and Apicius and Elagabalus, although more likely my ancestors were illiterate Alpine villagers. And before that, illiterate Alpine villagers.