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The Oldest Enduring Dish


IndyRob
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China? Maybe. Or somewhere in the Middle East. Yeah, I'm too thinking places where agriculture began because I think the idea of a 'dish'--a distinct thing that you prepare in a specific way using the same (or close enough) ingredients each time, like carbonara--is a very modern concept. Very modern. A dish is a pretty luxurious concept. You'd have to be pretty flush up for most of human history to prepare or eat 'dishes' as you see them. You can probably forget about anything from even the early days of agriculture if you're expecting to hear someone say, 'Duck confit on a bed of spinach, celeriac, chocolate & cherry jus paired with 10000BCE Pinot Noir, Golden Crescent, Middle East.' :smile:

Put me down for pot au feu. If you include snacks or prepared ingredients (which can be eaten on their own) then throw in salt-cured sardines/anchovies/cod and beef jerky/biltong.

1st century Roman? Chocolate? Wrong continent. Anything European involving tomatoes or potatoes or chocolate--or anything Asian involving chilli, say--or capsicum is automatically out, I'd say. At least in it's current form. And I doubt anything has survived untouched.

Edited by ChrisTaylor (log)

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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I think I've created some confusion regarding the goal by having a fuzzy conception at the start. Now that I've had some more input and have been able to reflect a bit, I'll try to clarify further.

o We're looking for dishes that are popular today in multiple regions. Pastizzi (which I had in mind when creating the topic) probably sets the lowest bar. They rule in tiny Malta, appear to be popular in Australia, as well as other regional places like Toronto - and can be found in NYC.

o The dish should consist of multiple components that are combined in a (usually) distinguishingly named dish. Cooked lobster? No. Lobster Florentine? Absoluteley.

o Things such as Bread, Sausage, Ham, and/or Fois Gras are treated as ingredients. A Baguette is not a dish, but a Jambon Beurre is. A sausage is not dish, but franks and beans, or cassoulets are. French Toast was the perfect example and resolved this for me.

o There must be at least an arguable chain of custody, and reasonable degree of consistancy, from modernity to antiquity.

Really, what I'm looking for is which preparations (beyond simply cooking something properly) have earned a long reign on this earth and still hold up to this day. Inspired by a 400 year run of pastizzi, I thought that older dishes must be even more exemplary.

So far, I've discovered in French Toast, that sometimes it's not so much about excellence of a particular dish, but a damned solid way of dealing with a common problem such as day old bread.

Edited by IndyRob (log)
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like carbonara--is a very modern concept. Very modern. A dish is a pretty luxurious concept. You'd have to be pretty flush up for most of human history to prepare or eat 'dishes' as you see them.

Carbonara is very recent (well, I think, I haven't looked it up). But I think Pastizzi predates it by a mile, and is far more sophisticated.

1st century Roman? Chocolate? Wrong continent.

I wasn't suggesting that. Only that they could have existed at the same time.

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Another possibility: cheesecake. The Romans mixed fresh cheese with honey and eggs, maybe added a squeeze of lemon, then baked the mixture to solidify the texture. Not much difference then from now. The same for butter cookies, the simple kind made only with fat, flour, and sugar (or other sweetener). Westerners make their cookies with butter; Asians use lard.

Egg drop soup has graced Asian and European peasant tables for centuries, and it's probably the same now as then. What's to change? Some kind of stock flavored with onion or garlic, with an egg swirled into it.

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Don't you think it would have to be a soup? Potage or a nice beef stew with root veggies? Let's assume we are cooking over fire but we have pots and pans and are an agrarian society, we would cook with what we have but it would need to be hearty. Soup, specifically a stew or potage.

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ok, here's my stab at it, if you are looking for something documented, and will accept sweet rather than savoury dishes, the Ramadan traditional sweet of Katayyef (fried pancakes stuffed with sweet cheese or nuts) has to get my vote. it is documented in Kitab-Al_Tabikh which was written in 1226 in practically identical form to the modern dish which is celebrated in every Arab household today throughout the month of Ramadan.

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I'm thinking that it might be tamales. If I'm remembering my history correctly, they originated with the Aztecs as a form of easily portable food for soldiers. There are similar dishes in Native American cuisine that may have come from those tamales or may have originated on their own.

Another thought would be dumplings. The problem there is defining origin, but they've been around for a long time throughout Asia, southern Europe, and the Middle East. Kind of like the biryani vs. pilaf question, every culture wants to claim that they were the first to make it.

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There are some pretty good records of food in ancient India because of old religious and medical texts which mention food. Some of the dishes are still made today in a near identical form, whilst others have changed quite a bit.

We must remember that ancient India did not have potatoes, tomatoes or chillies. However, turmeric, cardamom (ginger is also from the same family as these two, so it may have been around pretty early but I cannot find a source), pepper and mustard were all cultivated by 3000BC (source: this webpage). Barley was probably one of the oldest grains, but wheat was also pretty ancient. Mung, masoor and urad dal are mentioned in very old Sanskrit texts. Aubergine and sesame were also very early cultivated plants. Bajra and ragi (both kinds of millet) came from Africa pretty early on. Jowar, another kind of millet, may also have come from Africa although it was also an important grain in ancient China so it may have come from there. Sugarcane was a native plant had very early on. Since wheat was also available, it is possible that sweetened pancakes or other kinds of cakes were made quite early on. There are other ancient plants that were available too, but these that I have mentioned are examples that are well known and used today.

A few examples of ancient dishes still made today (that I could find references for, and that aren't as generic as "dal" and "flat breads"):

Payasa (rice cooked in milk) is mentioned in Buddhist-Jain canonical literature in 400BC according to food historian K. T. Achaya. Today it is called payasam in the South, payesh in Bengal and kheer in the North. This page claims to have a 2000 year old recipe for payasa, still cooked in some form in the Jagannatha Temple in Puri, Orissa today.

The Greek writer Aristobolus, who travelled with Alexander, mentioned "cakes made of sesamum and honey". He would not have known what sugarcane was, so it is actually very likely that these were made of sesame and jaggery and of course this is the til ladoo still made all over India today.

Anyone interested in the history of Indian food should definitely check out a the books by food historian/ food scientist K. T Achaya. I own "A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food" and "The Story of our Food"

Edited by Jenni (log)
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I'm thinking that it might be tamales.

Originating somewhere between 8000-5000 BCE, tamales could be a runaway winner, but it seems unlikely and difficult to ascertain. From a little browsing it looks as though the Spaniards found them in dizzying varieties, so at that point, tamales seem more of a genre than a dish. It's very possible that within those varieties was something that that was faithful to the ancient version. But as time wore on, one site says, tamales homogenized. It would be amazing and exciting if the ancient tamales survived that selection process, but it would almost be too good to believe.

Jenni, I imagine that India could be among the best places to look, and Payasa may be a good candidate. I'm not sure rice cooked in milk would be enough, but the first recipe I found had a lot more to it than that.

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Jenni, I imagine that India could be among the best places to look, and Payasa may be a good candidate. I'm not sure rice cooked in milk would be enough, but the first recipe I found had a lot more to it than that.

I was simplifying when I said rice cooked in milk :smile: . Basically it is rice pudding.

ETA: We need gautam to tell us more about all of this!

Edited by Jenni (log)
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I still think it would be porridge. The ancient Egyptians in the first dynasty - 5000 years ago - already had a long established system of feeding "municipal" workers with porridge made of grains, etc., as well as beer and bread.

In North America, there is recent evidence that the earliest "immigrants" such as the Clovis People, gathered and made something like porridge from grains(millet) and acorns and the recent findings indicate they were doing this 14,000 years ago.

Some Native Americans still prepare a similar dish.

Frumenty was a porridge made from oats in medieval times but it probably arrived in England with the Romans, however the Romans were rather late to the table as far as porridge is concerned.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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The problem I have with porridge is that it's basically just a cooked ingredient. As you point out, it has been developed independently by Egyptians and mesoamericans (and probably many others). Rice is similar, well actually, aguably it is porridge. And that is another problem - porridge can be made out many different ingredients. It's a catchall for any one of various boiled cereals, not a specific thing.

I'm looking at a 'dish' as being a unique creative expression, usually (maybe always) requiring a combination of ingredients, and hence a specific recipe (some variation of which will be assumed, because that's just what we do with recipes).

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Then I don't understand your premise. If you don't consider porridge a dish then it is difficult to narrow it down and get a clean time line.

The next oldest item would be "stew" which is certainly a "dish" that would consist of several ingredients, seasonings, etc., not much different than we prepare today.

Meat, fish or fowl, onions, roots (turnips, etc.), pulses, greens and herbs cooked together.

Cathy Kaufman's Cooking in Ancient Civilizations has a number of early recipes and modern equivalents.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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Then I don't understand your premise. If you don't consider porridge a dish then it is difficult to narrow it down and get a clean time line.

The next oldest item would be "stew" which is certainly a "dish" that would consist of several ingredients, seasonings, etc., not much different than we prepare today.

I'm using a very specific and non-traditional sense of 'dish'. I'm not saying bowl porridge isn't a dish, just that it's not a specific dish. Perhaps I should have used 'recipe', although that may have invited a different set of differing interpretations.

Stew is similar to porridge. It's more of a genre than a specific dish/recipe. Kentucky Burgoo would work (although not exactly ancient, or popular outside of Kentucky). Boulliabaise is another stew (some may argue soup though) that is completely different. Shaman Ooklid's Persimmon and Pear Oat Porridge would work (if it actually existed and met the other criteria).

Edited by IndyRob (log)
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But early human food ... and most human food today is merely 'cooked ingredients'. Be it a piece of meat cooked on the fire or porridge or beans or whatever. I get what you're trying to do but I think that's going to be hard to pin down. Really hard to pin down. A lot of old dishes would've changed considerably or died out. Hence the distinct lack of stuff that was cooked way back forever ago and exists now, pretty much unchanged, except for the fact you can buy a microwaveable version in the supermarket's freezer section.

Are you looking at making historical dishes or something? Why not just mess around with Apicius or whatever. You can find free translations online a lot. As time has gone on and we've got wealthier, we've had more access to different cuts of meat, a wider range of meats and vegetables, spices, salt, sugar and so on. A lot of those ancient dishes wouldn't taste of much, at least not to our modern palates

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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But early human food ... and most human food today is merely 'cooked ingredients'. Be it a piece of meat cooked on the fire or porridge or beans or whatever. I get what you're trying to do but I think that's going to be hard to pin down. Really hard to pin down. A lot of old dishes would've changed considerably or died out. Hence the distinct lack of stuff that was cooked way back forever ago and exists now, pretty much unchanged, except for the fact you can buy a microwaveable version in the supermarket's freezer section.

Are you looking at making historical dishes or something? Why not just mess around with Apicius or whatever. You can find free translations online a lot. As time has gone on and we've got wealthier, we've had more access to different cuts of meat, a wider range of meats and vegetables, spices, salt, sugar and so on. A lot of those ancient dishes wouldn't taste of much, at least not to our modern palates

I'm not just interested in this topic in general historic food. I'm interested in currently popular (specific) recipes with long histories. Ultimately, the one with the longest continuous history.

A lot of old dishes would've changed considerably or died out.

These wouldn't be enduring dishes. They may have endured for a time, but are not enduring.

French Toast is clearly enduring, specific, popular, well documented, and ancient. It was a good find. Payasa seems to be something that could mount a strong challenge if we can vett the details.

Hence the distinct lack of stuff that was cooked way back forever ago and exists now</quote>

And hence the specialness of the few things that have endured.

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How I'm interpreting the question is a specific combination of ingredients that is so good it has remained more or less intact through centuries or even millenia: e.g., something so good that it has survived the cross-cultural pollination that followed Columbus: a dish from the Americas that is still made with beans, squash, corn, tomatoes, epazote but without old world spices or grains or animals--no cinnamon, wheat, beef. Or an old-world dish without tomatoes, potatoes, corn, peppers, vanilla.

Basil pesto could have been enjoyed by Romans a couple of millenia ago--basil, garlic, pine nuts, hard sheep cheese--and is so good it hasn't needed much 'updating'. But it couldn't have been made in more or less current form before the invention of cheese. Similarly, french toast needs domesticated animals for the milk.

So....anyone know a still-popular stew made with wild game and sufficiently specific indigenous herbs, vegetables, and grains or legumes to make it specific and traceable, no dairy, that could have been made by a hunter-gatherer in the same location 10,000 years ago?

One of my favorite dishes, Mujadarrah, is pretty simple: lentils, rice, onions, olive oil, salt, pepper. Minus the pepper, it could have been made in the middle east as soon as people figured out how to press olives for oil and to fry things in it. But no idea when it really first appeared.

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