Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Around the Roman Table - Patrick Faas

Around the Table of the Romans: Food and Feasting in Ancient RomeFood and history are two of the great loves of my life.  I thought Around the Roman Table would fit nicely into those categories. did, but I didn't really like it.  Don't get me wrong--it was okay.  It was just a more boring than I expected it to be.  It includes a lot of descriptions about what people ate, how they ate it, and how food tied into culture in Rome.  That part was interesting.  But there was also an entire second part that included recipes from Roman times.  I thought this was going to be pretty interesting, too...but I wasn't really impressed.  Reading the recipes requires you to pound down some Roman terms for food that Faas explains earlier in the book, or else keep flipping back to those pages to figure out what he's talking about.  Additionally, Roman recipes weren't really "recipes" in the same sense as we have "recipes."  There often weren't fixed amounts, and I'm skeptical as to how accurate Faas' interpretations of them are.  It seems like he might have just guessed at the amounts of ingredients to best suit modern readers' tastes.  That said, I'm really not sure how many people would be putting copious amounts of fish sauce in every dish they make.  Some of the ingredients I've never even heard of; for example, what the hell is lovage?  That was explained, but not very well.  Some ingredients are actually extinct, like laser, a plant that the Romans loved so much they actually drove it to extinction.  And then there are other ingredients that, while technically still around, aren't exactly easy to get.  For example, where would I find half a kilo of minced dolphin?  The writing style wasn't all that fabulous, either; there were multiple cases of sentences that didn't make sense, and the recipes Faas included were also included in Latin, in their entirety.  Really, I don't care about a quarter of a page of Latin that I can't read.  More quoting often meant that, in the first half of the book, Faas quoted more than he actually wrote.  Some of the clumsiness in writing may be because the book is translated (I believe it was originally in Dutch) but that doesn't really excuse it.  Overall, interesting topic, but not the best book.

2 stars out of 5.

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