Cuneiform cuisine

From the Society of Biblical Literature site: Cuneiform Cuisine: Culinary History Reborn at Brown University.

Babylonian food has come a long way since Jean Bottéro, doyen of the cuneiform recipe tablets in the Yale Babylonian Collection, pronounced it fit for only his worst enemies. This year at Brown University, one hundred twenty-two ravenous diners grazed on fare cooked from these recipes with exclamations of amazement and satisfaction. What’s more, for many of them, this event was not their first Mesopotamian culinary experience, as this academic year marked the eighth annual Cuneiform Cuisine party at Brown. What had originally been conceived of as a reception for the devoted students of my ever-popular Akkadian courses had now grown to include other members across the Brown community as well as other skeptical guests eager for a blast of gastronomic originality.

Such epicurean results would not have been possible without my initial source of inspiration, Bottéro’s Textes culinaires Mésopotamiens. This book, of course, was meant to be a scholarly tome, and, to be sure, it contains his painstaking and meticulous transcriptions and translations of the difficult and cryptic clay cooking tablets inscribed in Akkadian. Still, it turns out to be so much more. The reader is treated to a rich commentary on the enigmatic recipes, their cooking methods, and the requisite utensils and equipment. As if this were not enough, there is an elegant discussion of the preparation and presentation of the finished dishes, as well as a dictionary of Akkadian culinary terms and recipe ingredients. It is enough to make any wanabe cook dizzy. And truthfully, even in my first reading, as I thoroughly appreciated the volume as a veritable primer of Mesopotamian cookery, a work fully capable of stamping the marvels of the world’s oldest cuisine on the memory for years, I above all else recognized the promise it held of recreating such ancient food in today’s kitchen. I was hooked. I had to take it on. [continue]