Apart from the high arts of Rhetoric, Poetry, Philosophy, and Architecture, Ancient Greeks also started the art of Gastronomy. The most convincing proof of this is the word “gastronomy” which comes from the Greek “gastronomy” and “law”, ie “the laws of the stomach”.
Who was the first Chef ever?
Archestratos, a famous Syracusan poet and philosopher of the 4th c. BC is considered the father of gastronomy, as he was the one who invented the term gastronomy (see also who was the first actor). He studied the rules of appetite and taste and submitted the first cookbook in the world. He was the first to treat cooking as an art and even wrote the poem “Idypathy”(Life of Luxury), in which he reveals the secrets of ancient Greek recipes and cuisine.
The poem urges the reader to set aside restraint and indulge in the enjoyment and pleasure of good food without any frugality, which explains Archestratus’ reputation as a man of liberated morals according to the philosophers Clearchus (4th century) and Chrysippus (3rd century).
Essentially, Lust or Deptnology or Gastronomy is a poetic work from which only 300 verses survive. In this work, Archestratos dedicates extensive chapters to legumes, fish, and wine and at the same time records the rules of cooking, giving the cuisine of his time some specific features that are timeless features of Greek cuisine. The five golden rules of the gastronomic art of Archestratos (relevant today more than ever) were the use of simple, pure products produced by nature.
- Use of simple, pure products produced by nature
- Harmony of materials with each other, so that one does not overlap the aromas and flavors of the other.
- No heavy sauces and hot ingredients.
- Use light sauces for more enjoyment on the palate.
- Seasoning with the well-known Greek measure and discipline, so as not to disturb the harmony of flavors and aromas
What the ancient Greeks were ate
In these 300 verses, Archestratos shows that the ancient Greek cuisine was rich in cereals, fish, vegetables, and fruits, while brilliantly and lightly he describes the trips he made to many places to get to know the different cuisines and gastronomic customs.
In addition, as a true lover of good food, he advises his reader where to find the best products and how to taste them properly. So we learn that Athens had the best and freshest picarel fish(spicara maris), Mytilene island was famous for its scallops, Lake Amvrakia and Kalydonia for its perch, and Carthage for its seashells.
The Syracusan poet also mentions that Attic honey highlights the taste of any pie, the brood is an excellent appetizer if it is fried with nettles and herbs and that the shark is exquisite food, characterizing it as the flower of nectar. At the same time, he advises not to consume water before eating, because we destroy the food we eat.
On the contrary, he considers that we should drink water before the wine since in this way the strength and spark of the wine weaken and he notes that the best wine, which is light for the stomach, is the sweet wine from Lesvos island.
Ancient Greek recipes
We give you the recipe of Archestratos for stuffed sardines adapted of course to our time.
36 fresh, large sardines
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp. chopped parsley
175 gr. bread crumbs
1/2 tbsp. salt
18 bay leaves
40 gr. fresh butter at room temperature
Wash the sardines, clean them and cut the tail and head. Melt the garlic and mix it with the parsley, eggs, five tbsp. bread crumbs and salt. Once a uniform mixture is made, fill the sardines with it. Butter a pan and place the sardines next to each other. Cover each of the two sardines with a bay leaf. Sprinkle with the remaining crumbs and pour over with the fresh butter. Bake at 200oC for about 20 minutes and serve hot or cold.
One of his recipes includes sea bass seasoned with silifi and covered with a donut, tuna croquettes sprinkled with cumin, mackerel dips in brine, and swordfish wrapped in figs. After the initial appetizers, the duck covered with a substratum (creamy sauce) follows.
The symposium continues with a sweet placenta, which consisted of various levels of dough filled with honey and soft cheese, and the whole dinner is accompanied by wine. This is one of few samples of ancient Greek recipes that are left.
Food in ancient Greece
The ancient Greeks started their daily activities at sunrise. Before starting their work, they ate something simple. This first meal was called akratisma, it was bread dipped in a little stale wine. Towards noon or afternoon, they had a simple and quick meal, the best. Before dinner, they ate something fast. The regular meal, which was rich, it was taken at the end of the day and was called dinner. They normally ate only in the evenings, because they had guests almost every day.
They usually ate cereals
They were characterized by austerity in food. They usually ate cereals, wheat, and barley, which is why Homer calls them “bread eaters”. They had two kinds of bread, the mass, which was barley fermented in cake, cheaper and they baked it either alone in the houses or in the ovens. The other type of bread was bread, regular bread. Every solid food that accompanied the bread was called opson: greens, onions, olives, fish, meat, fruits, sweets. A very favorite food was etnos, fava beans and lentils. They ate a lot of garlic and cheese. The meat was expensive, so it was rarely eaten, and it was mainly poultry, piglets, game. Fish was a staple food, eaten fresh or salted (tarich).
Dinner ended with dessert, tragima: fresh or dried fruit, sweets, honey, nuts. Their main drink was wine, which they usually drank in water, to have clarity in the conversation. Another drink that was often drunk and that determined the ritual in the Eleusinian mysteries, was the kykeon, a mixture of barley flour, water and aromatic plants.
The ancient Greeks did not use forks, so they cut the meat into small pieces and caught it by hand. However, they used skewers and meatballs with two or three stems. They used spoons, but sometimes also the crust of bread for a spoon
A sample of Archestratus gastronomy advice
“But I say to hell with saperde, a Pontic dish, And those who praise it. For few people Know which food is wretched and which is excellent. But get a mackerel on the third day, before it goes into saltwater Within a transport jar as a piece of recently cured, half-salted fish.
And if you come to the holy city of famous Byzantion, I urge you again to eat a steak of peak-season tuna; for it is very good and soft.”
“Do not allow anyone come near you when you bake sea wolf neither Syracusan nor Italiote, for they do not know how to prepare them decently. But they ruin them and make a mess out of them with cheeses and sprinklings of the liquid vinegar and the silphion brine
“First I shall recall the gifts to humankind and fair-haired Demeter, friend Moschus: take them to your heart. The best one can get, the finest of all, cleanly hulled from good ripe ears, is the barley from the sea-washed breast of famous Eresus in Lesbos – whiter than airborne snow. If the gods eat barley, this is where Hermes goes shopping for it.
“But if you go to the prosperous land of Ambracia and happen to see the boarfish, buy it! Even if it costs its weight in gold, don’t leave without it, lest the dread vengeance of the deathless ones breathes down on you; for this fish is the flower of nectar…”