“A cuisine of striking richness, refinement, sophistication and artistry, which is surprising from such an early period,” is how French Assyriologist and gourmet chef Jean Bottero, who decoded three ancient ‘cookbooks’, described the Akkadian recipes meticulously inscribed in cuneiform tablets.
The Beginning of Fine Cuisine
It may be said that cooking was ‘invented’ when our human ancestors began to control fire. Whilst this occurred in prehistoric times, it was much later that humans began recording their favored meals as recipes. The world’s oldest known ‘cookbook’ comes from Mesopotamia, and is referred today as the Yale Culinary Tablets. This is a group of three clay tablets that are kept in the Yale Babylonian Collection today, and contains cooking instructions for 25 different recipes.
Whilst the provenance of the Yale Culinary Tablets is not known, analysis of the text suggests that the text date to the middle of the Old Babylonian period, i.e. around 1700 B.C., and are probably from the southern part of Mesopotamia. The Yale Culinary Tablets consists of three discrete clay tablets that have been named YBC 4644, YBC 8958, and YBC 4648.
The reverse of YBC 4644. Photo source: Ancient History et cetera.
Fit for a Babylonian King?
The ancient cookbooks contain recipes for 21 types of meat dishes and 4 kinds of vegetable ones, almost all of which involved combinations of meat, fowl, vegetables, or grain cooked in broth, which had first been flavored with onions, garlic and leeks. The dishes were slow-cooked in a covered pot to make the food extra tasty.
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