“So You’re Dining with the Persian Emperor” by Charles Perry
Even for a country whose ruler’s official title was Great King, King of Kings, ancient Persia impressed its neighbors with the staggering luxury of its court life. Haute cuisine was a central part of it all — being a knowledgeable foodie was essential if you hoped to amount to anything at court. The Greeks recorded that the emperors fed thousands of aristocrats in high fashion every day, perhaps as a way of binding them to the central power in a vast country divided by geographical barriers.
The imperial cuisine included such refinements as cooling beverages with snow hauled down from the mountains, capturing wild animals while young and fattening them in captivity for greater lusciousness and frying hemp seeds in the fat of the mountain goat. No wonder Persian folklore credited one emperor with inventing pasta.
Unfortunately, the Persian court left us no cookbooks. All we have is the shocked observations of the Greeks (who couldn’t believe those Persians insisted on sleeping on soft beds) and a number of recipes surviving in medieval Arab cookbooks, but that’s enough to recreate the splendor. Come find out all you need to know to attend an imperial banquet.
Charles Perry majored in Middle East Studies at Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley, and spent a year at the Middle East Centre for Arab Studies in Shimlan, Lebanon. Thereafter he pursued a career as a writer, serving as an editor and staff writer at Rolling Stone Magazine 1968-76 and the Los Angeles Times 1990-2008. He is the president and co-founder of the Culinary Historians of Southern California.
He has translated three 13th-century books on on the cuisine of the eastern Arab world, including Scents and Savors: A Syrian Cookbook (NYU Press, 2017). His translation of a 13th-century Moorish cookbook is available on line at http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Medieval/Cookbooks/Andalusian/andalusian_contents.htm