Monday, July 25, 2011

Parthian Cuisine

Parthian leaders in battle gear from Ridpath's Universal History (1899).
NYPL Digital Gallery
The Parthians (Parthav / Pahlavi. 247 BCE-224 CE) overthrew the remnants of the Macedonian rule of Iranshahr after its conquest by Alexander. They were based in an area that forms the northeast of today’s Iran and North Khorasan province.

Parthian Soup (Eshkeneh): Reports of the military campaigns of the first Parthian king, Arshak I (Arsaces I), note that his soldiers supped on an onion soup, the predecessor to today’s Eshkeneh soup made with sautéed dark golden brown onions, fresh fenugreek and the stirred eggs (as in an egg swirl soup).

Some information has come to us about Parthian food through Roman sources, principally De Re Coquinaria by Marcus Gavius Apicius (late 4th or early 5th century CE) and also De Agricultura by Marcus Porcius Cato.

Parthian Chicken (Pullum Parthicum) at Apicius 6.9.2: pullum aperies a naui et in quadrato ornas. teres piper, ligusticum, carei modicum. suffunde liquamen. uino temperas. componis in Cumana pullum et condituram super pullum facies. laser et uinum interdas. dissolues et in pullum mittis simul et coques. piper aspersum infers

Loosely translated as sprinkle chicken liberally with pepper. Combine wine, fish sauce and asafoetida, lovage (a perennial herb, native to the Mediterranean, with greenish flowers and small aromatic fruit used in seasoning) and caraway seeds and pour over the chicken. Cook covered and then open to roast and brown the chicken. Serve with sauce poured over the chicken.

Parthian Bread: Roman legions were familiar with ‘Parthian bread’ and Pliny (the elder, 23-79 CE) claimed that it would keep for centuries. The bread was hard and crisp similar to a cracker. It was probably twice baked with a biscuit since double baking improves keeping qualities.

Parthian (?) Lamb (Agnum Particum) at Apicius 3.6.5: Haedun sive agnum particum: Mittes in furnum. Teres piper, rutam, cepam, satureiam, damascena enucleata, laseris midicum, vinum, liquamen et oleum. Fervens collitur in disco, ex aceto sumitur.

Loosely translated: Rub lamb with olive oil, chopped garlic and salt and pepper. Roast and baste with wine. Sauté chopped onions in olive oil with salt, pepper and herbs. Add prune, fish sauce and crushed garlic and cook to a sauce. Pour wine over roasted lamb a serve with sauce.

Parthian Laser (Asafoetida) at Apicus 5.3.7: Aliter pisam sive fabam: despumatam subtrito lasare Parthico, liquamen et caroeno condies. Oleum modice superfundis et infers.

Here we find reference to Parthian Laser, a condiment or seasoning thought to be Ferula asafoetida (asafoetida). As angedan and hing, Iranians and Indians are familiar with asafoetida as a flavour enhancer, tenderizer and preservative. According to Ammini Ramachandran, the name asafoetida originates from the Persian word aza (mastic resin) and the Latin foetida meaning stinking. He further states that the ancient Sanskrit text ‘Kashyapa Samhita’, (c. 200 BCE) mentions about the import of asafoetida from Afghanistan.

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