ISAW Co-hosts "Appetite for the Past"

By Maggie Pavao

ISAW's Visiting Assistant Professor Yitzchak Jaffe co-organized the two day conference and symposium, Appetite for the Past, in collaboration with Kelila Jaffe of NYU's Nutritional Science department. Together, they assembled teams of scholars and chefs with the goal of recreating ancient dishes. 

In an article in the DailyBeast, ISAW Research Associate Candida Moss explains how "food and food habits are a key marker of identity. It defines where, how, and what you eat, which, in turn, determines when and with whom you can socialize." The act of recreating ancient dishes helped in some cases, to expose the scientific process of cooking and helped the scholars involved understand the history better.

Jaffe was puzzled by the patterns of use on a vessel found in an ancient Chinese cemetery. COURTESY YITZCHAK JAFFE

Jessica Leigh Hester writes in an Atlas Obscura article: "Sometimes ancient recipes get committed to paper or a tablet—though they’re often still frustratingly vague—but in most cases the task of understanding what people in the past ate, and how they prepared and consumed it is an exercise in scientific inference and creativity." Teams in the conference recreated dishes ranging from a Babylonian lamb-and-beet stew, a jiggling almond-milk custard that riffed on medieval blancmage, and for dessert, to honey-flavored mochi inspired by a book of vegetarian recipes dating to China’s Song Dynasty. 

The team presented their stew and some millet crackers at a recent tasting. 

Below, a Yale-Harvard collaboration resulted in delicious recreations of three of the four known 4,000-year old Babylonian recipes found on tablets which reside in the Yale Babylonian Collection in Sterling Memorial Library. 

And check out the video below for an interview with the organizers and a look at the chefs in action!

What do Barbarians have for dinner? And which fish sauces did the Ancient Romans prefer? Watch NYU scholars from the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, NYU Steinhardt Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, and the Department of Anthropology come together to re-create culinary dishes from WAY back.