When Macedonian Caranous gave his wedding banquet, early in the third century, only 20 men attended as his guests. As soon as they had sat down, a silver bowl was given to each of them as a present.
When they had drunk the contents of the bowls, then there was given to each of the guests a loaf of bread on a bronze platter of Corinthian workmanship, of the same size; and chickens, ducks, pigeons, and a goose and lots of other items. Each guest took the food and gave it, platter and all, to the slave who waited behind him. Many other elaborate dishes were also served. And after them, another platter came, this one was made of silver, on which was placed a large loaf, and on that geese and hares and kids, bread curiously made, and doves, and turtledoves, and partridges, and a great abudance of many other kinds of birds.
After some flute-playing women and musicians had played a prelude, other girls came in, each one carrying two bottles of perfume bound with a gold cord and they gave a pair to each of the guests.
Then a great treasure was brought in: a silver platter with a golden edge, and large enough to receive a roast piglet of huge size, lying on its back, showing his belly, stuffed with many delicious things: roasted thrushes, and paunches, and a most countless number of fig-peckers, and the yolks of eggs spread on the top, and oysters, and scallops. And to every one of the guests were given these items, nice and hot, together with the platters.
But this was not the end of the banquet.
Many more items were brought until the serving time of the after- dinner tables: hot kid, roast fishes, Cappadocian bread, real Erymanthian boars and rivers of wine.
Finally, the after-dinner tables: flat cakes – Samian types and Attic types- Cretan gastrin, along with the special cake- boxes for each of the guests.
What a feast, indeed! And what a plethora of ingredients and combinations for those who demanded (and could afford) the best, most extravagant, most fashionable and ultimately most expensive foods.
after Alexander’s conquest Hellenistic civilization was spread through the E. Mediterranean and Near East. Long distance trade between West and East expanded; crop varieties were exchanged; new fruits were introduced and spices were imported from the East; new foodways were imported as well.
that wedding dinner manifestates -among other things- the dramatic changes of eating during the end of fourth and the early part of third century.
As the Greek cities were dominated or governed by the Macedonias and the successors of Alexander competed with each other in manifestation of magnificance and power, those different foods and foodways became widely adopted by the elite. The wealthy had a large and gastronomically elaborate menu in a style influenced by Macedonians, Persians and the polished Magna Grecia that had reached a high degree of refinement.
such dinners also contributed to the display of the wealth. Silver and golden platters, dancers, singers, gifts to the guests etc. emphasize the manifestation of wealth rather than concern the food itself.
the local cuisines of the Greek cities were considered old fashioned or old or simply poor .
it is worth pointing out that two centuries later the availability of a great selection of herbs and spices and the wide range of their combinations imply that Greeks did’t consider them extravagant anymore. Obviously, they had become familiar with them.
A good example of the abundance and combinations of condiments is myma, a meat dish of the 1st century B.C. Stirred into the meat and giblets were 13 herbs and spices-cheese was among them- and blood.
All these details show how far the Hellenistic people had developed the art of cooking.
can we recreate Hellenistic recipes?
Hmm… For the first dinner of the Edible history poject which took place at Evmaros (Cultural Association) I made goat cheese and hydromeli; I made breads with ancient wheats and plakountes; I baked them in a sort of klivanos and in the wood fired brick oven of the bakery in my neighborhood; I pickled radishes with home made vinegar and home made wine and 20 days later I minced and mixed them with minced raisins and mustard seeds (many varieties of vegetables and greens have disappeared; never thought that it was so difficult to find radish with long root); I stuffed a piglet….
the truth is that if we cannot cook over an open fire (though we use replicas of ancient utensils) an if we don’t raise the same animal races or cultivate the same varieties of vegetables in the same ways as the ancient Greeks, recreating ancient dishes is very difficult. Since we ignore quantities and cooking times, it’s getting practically impossible.
We do know that Hellenistic people had a sweet and sour cuisine – probably, less sweet and sour than the Roman cuisine- which blended the sharp tastes of vinegar, wine, herbs and spices with the sweetness of honey, raisins and grape molasses but we cannot revive it. We can only give a flavor of the foods that they may have eaten.
Hors d’ oeuvres
Clockwise from top left:
cabbage, cucumbers, apples, pomegranate seeds;
arugula sprinkled with Vietanmese nuoc mam, a good substitute for garos (the ancient fish sauce);
mushrooms with oxymeli ( a boiled mixture of honey, vinegar and water);
pork belly stuffed with liver, bulgur and blood;
boiled tripe served in sharp vinegar, cumin and asafoetida. Originally it was served sprinkled with the famous silphion (latin: silphium), a plant that marked rich dinners. After its disappearing, it has been replaced by asafoetida which was brought by Alexander the Great to the West.
In ancient Greece, fresh meat required to be slaughtered and prepared by a mageiros, a butcher, sacrificer and cook) with appropriate religious ritual. Oven roasting became popular during hellenistic years. It was also introduced from the East allowing the development of extravagant stuffed meat dishes, which later became popular in ancient Rome.
Our piglet was stuffed with chicken breasts, roast thrushes, fig-peckers, paunches and yolks of eggs.
“Defterai trapezai” (second tables) corresponded to our dessert. They were called so because clean tables were brought in. Dessert consisted of different kinds of fresh and dried fruits, nuts, cheese, cakes, sweetmeats etc.
Cheese-plakountes (bread-cakes) have their ingredients (fine flour, honey***, fresh goat chees, water) mashed into a pulp or they were made in a form of stuffed bread.
* Satureja thymbra, za’atar rumi.
** Welsh onion has nothing to do with Wales. According to Wikipedia ‘Welsh preserves the original meaning of the Old English word “welisc”, or Old German “welsche”, meaning “foreign”. The species originated in Asia, possibly Siberia or China’.
***Best honey was still agreed to be the thyme honey of mount Hymettus.
****Black pepper was imported from the East and presumably was more expensive than silphium.
HERE, ANOTHER DESCRIPTION OF THE DINNER (ΒΥ ΙVY OF KOPIASTE)