Watch a 4000-Year Old Babylonian Recipe for Stew, Found on a Cuneiform Tablet, Get Cooked by Researchers from Yale & Harvard

Walk like an Egypt­ian, but eat like an ancient Baby­lon­ian.

While cook­books con­tain­ing Mesopotami­an fare do exist, to be real­ly authen­tic, take your recipes from a clay tablet, dense­ly inscribed in cuneiform.

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.

via Kot­tke/Yale

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How to Write in Cuneiform, the Old­est Writ­ing Sys­tem in the World: A Short, Charm­ing Intro­duc­tion

Dis­cov­er the Old­est Beer Recipe in His­to­ry From Ancient Sume­ria, 1800 B.C.

Cook Real Recipes from Ancient Rome: Ostrich Ragoût, Roast Wild Boar, Nut Tarts & More

How to Bake Ancient Roman Bread Dat­ing Back to 79 AD: A Video Primer

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.

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Comments (5)
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  • Libby Mcfarland says:

    Are these recipes avail­able some­where to print. I would like to cook them with my stu­dents. Thanks, Lib­by

  • Ayun Halliday says:

    Lib­by, I looked high and low and could­n’t find em. But per­haps if you email Agnete Lassen, whose Yale pro­file is hyper­linked above, she may prove will­ing to help a fel­low edu­ca­tor out!

  • Sonya Garza Rapport says:

    I will love to take cute of cook­ing class­es in New York or in Yale of Old or antique world recip­ies. Once I read about Recip­ies from Movies and I haven’t been able to find . I will be very hap­py if you let me know
    Sonya Garza Rap­port

  • Gustavo R. says:

    The name of the first recipe, if you think of unwind­ing as mean­ing ‘dis­en­tan­gle’, makes me think of “unty­ing knots” or “undo­ing knots”, as in

    Could it be that the soup was meant to ‘mag­i­cal­ly’ help peo­ple solve prob­lems in their lives, instead of ‘relax­ing mus­cles’?

  • George Abuhamad says:

    I think the lamb broth recipe calls for plain yogurt instead of milk, since the ancient word for yogurts “laban” is used inter-changably in the Near East till today, lamb broth yogurt is still a fair­ly pop­u­lar dish in Iraq and Syr­ia.

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