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Oct 7, 2004 4:51 am


The Problem with Those Restaurants that Feature Medieval Food



Mark Schatzker, at Slate.com (Oct. 6, 200):

For some people, renting Camelot on DVD just isn't enough. Neither is a trip to the museum, nor sitting down to read A Short History of the Middle Ages. These people want something closer to the real thing. So they visit a medieval-themed banquet to experience the food of that bygone era.

Since 1983, when its first "castle" opened in Kissimmee, Fla., Medieval Times Entertainment Inc. has served over 20 million diners. Today, the company operates eight restaurants across North America; the newest castle, in Hanover, Md., opened last year. Not to be outdone, Las Vegas' Excalibur Hotel & Casino serves about 10,000 rogues and wenches a week.

But there's one problem. Medieval-themed feasts aren't medieval. The vegetable soup (dragon tail soup), bland roast chicken (baby dragon), baked potato (dragon egg), and doughy desserts certainly seem pre-modern, not to mention pre-food-processor. It's like the food is the culinary equivalent of the classic stereotype that casts medieval people as belching, rugged simpletons. But throngs of bachelor partiers, group tourists, and amateur historians are being deceived about what it was like to chow down en masse during that long, dark period of history between the fall of the Roman Empire (fifth century) and the Renaissance (15th century).

Myth No. 1: Medieval food was bland.

Medieval chefs used spices as enthusiastically as the boy bands of today use hair products. Yes, medieval chefs did serve plain roasted meats, but they also served many meat dishes that featured thick, gooey sauces very heavily flavored with ingredients like ginger, sugar, vinegar, wine, raisins, mace, cloves, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, and honey. "Mawmenny," a typical dish, consisted of ground beef, pork, or mutton boiled in wine, which was then served in a wine-based sauce thickened with pounded chicken and almonds, then flavored with cloves, sugar, and more almonds (this time fried), and then festively colored with an indigo or red dye. Medieval food, in fact, was not unlike Indian food of today: sweet and acidic flavors combined, spices used by the handful. If anything, the concentrated, bold flavors would overwhelm the modern palate.

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