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Biblical Cookbooks & Roman Carry Outs
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The first biblical reference to the restaurant trade occurs when Jacob sells his son Esau a soup for his birthright (probably a lentil potage). Though I prefer to think of Jacob as the author of the first celebrity cookbook, after all, it is more likely that he sold Esau the 'receipt' (later to become recipe) for how to make the soup than an actual cup of the stuff.

Later, in Roman times, things get even more contemporaneous. Excepting those who were rich or very important, people didn't have kitchens, so everyone ate in taverns or at food stalls. Street food then, more than 2,000 years before the Hoxton and Shoreditch set started serving their 'Punk Riffs on Korean Classics' - such as slow roasted and soft fried free range Blythburgh pork in a rice bun with hoi sin sauce, cucumber and sriracha (me neither) - from the back of Volkswagen vans.  

The poor survived on carry outs, which could have been ordered from a Roman fast food chain (not unlike KFC) founded by a chap called Centurion Sanders, as archaeologists have discovered many drains blocked with chicken wings. Whilst the aforementioned rich/important people would have an in house chef preparing food that, eerily, resonates today: a salade composée of lettuce, leeks, mint, rocket, mackerel and sliced egg could be followed by braised lamb with greens and beans, chicken and leftover ham.

To finish? Cheesecake, one of the oldest recorded prepared foods, and fortified wine with fresh fruit. The savoury dishes, by the way, would include the judicious use of nutritional herbs, including the likes of asafoetida gum - used to aid digestion - which is now generally forgotten in Europe but in daily use in India (presumably to aid the, erm, safe passage of a ring stinging Vindaloo through the system).

All of the above facts or, given my potentially mangled interpretation, let us call them factoids, come from two wonderful cookbooks which I am going to suggest would make wonderful Christmas gifts for the foodie in the family.

Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today by Sally Grainger is brimful of wonderful historical insight and simple, workable recipes (Garum, the Roman fish sauce, which gave us the fifth taste umami and Defrutum, their version of the currently fashionable Verjuice, can both be made in 5 minutes). Described by John Updike as 'a poet of the appetites', M. F. K. Fisher's With Bold Knife and Fork is a masterpiece. Funny, wise and deeply unpretentious.


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