Walk like an Egyptian, but eat like an ancient Babylonian.
Sadly, there are only four of them, and they reside in a display case at Yale. (Understandable given that they’re over 4000 years old.)
When Agnete Lassen, associate curator of Yale’s Babylonian Collection, and colleague Chelsea Alene Graham, a digital imaging specialist, were invited to participate in a culinary event hosted by New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, they wisely chose to travel with a 3D-printed facsimile of one of the precious tablets.
T’would have been a shame to knock the original off the counter while reaching for a bunch of leeks.
While other presenters prepared such delicacies as Fish Sauces at the Roman Table, Buddhist vegetarian dishes from the Song Dynasty, and a post-modern squid-ink spin on Medieval Blancmange, the Yale team joined chef Nawal Nasrallah and a crew from Harvard to recreate three one-pot dishes detailed on one of the ancient artifacts.
Judging by the above video, the clear winner was Tuh’i, a beet and lamb stew which Lassen describes as a “proto-borscht.”
The vegetarian Unwinding Stew’s name proved unnecessarily vexing, while the milk-based Broth of Lamb was unappetizing to the eye (as well as the palate, according to Graham). Perhaps they should have substituted animal blood—another favorite Babylonian thickener.
As one of Lassen’s predecessors, Professor William W. Hallo, told The New York Times in 1988, it’s unlikely the average Mesopotamian would have had the opportunity to tuck into any of these dishes. The vast quantities of speciality ingredients and the elaborate instructions suggest a festive meal for the elite.
In addition to the dishes served at NYU’s Appetite for the Past conference, the tablets include recipes for stag, gazelle, kid, mutton, squab, and a bird that’s referred to as “tarru."
Next time, perhaps.
And not to quibble with the Bulldogs, but the BBC reports that researchers from the University of Wales Institute are claiming a pudding made from nettles, ground barley, and water is actually the world’s oldest recipe, clocking in at 6000 BC. (Serve it with roast hedgehog and fish gut sauce…)
While the Yale team has yet to share its recipes in a language other than cuneiform, The Silk Road Gourmet has a good guide to various Mesopotamian spices and staples.
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join her in NYC on Thursday June 28 for another monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.