This week I am cooking Roman. It usually evokes images of toga clothed men lying around the table, feeding themselves as young birds with wide open mouths, holding up bunches of grapes. An image that for me as a Dutchman rhymes with the Dutch way of eating salted herring.
For the Dutch this tradition might have been born out of pragmacy, visitors to the lowlands look at it with slight disgust. “For goodness sake, that herring is raw, and then to slide it down your throat as herrons or seagulls….”
Roman grape eating has almost the opposite connection, that of decedancy. Part of a jetset lifestyle, we think.
But that is how we look at it with our modern eyes. I wonder what the Romans would have made of our dinner parties.
There is something rejective about those reactions to the Dutch herring ‘happen’ and the Roman banquet. That is something the Romans wouldn’t have liked. The called their banquet a convivium, a ‘living together’.
I find modern food culture more and more that of an exclusive one. New European legislation on allergy advice have made a menu in a restaurant almost more about what you can’t eat then about what the restaurant is offering.
I know Oren is only covering a niche market, because more and more people describe themselves as picky eaters. The food they choose to eat is used as part of their identity, a way of setting them apart from everybody else, instead of ‘living together’, joining in.
When I was a child I hated green beans, because we had them every monday. Now I love them in a good salad Nicoise. I couldn’t stand raw tomato, I melt now when I smell a perfect ripe example. Recently I was given a jar of honey so good, I had a teaspoon as a treat every day. My 14 year old self would have looked at it with disgust.
Only with real allergies the rejection of food is a physical thing. For the rest it is a mental switch. And as soon as you have made it, you can discover a world of flavour you might have been excluding yourself from.
I am convinced it is better to live together with the world and all its possibilities, then to distance yourself from it. So for all of you who do and don’t like honey, here is finally something the Chinese didn’t invent, but apparently the Romans, a cheesecake.