Byzantine Foods

Unlike the Romans and earlier Greeks, Byzantine cookbooks seem to be rare indeed. In fact, only very tempting references to Byzantine cooking are found tucked into diplomatic reports and biographies of the Imperial family. We know that the empress Lupincina of the Danube Valley was a cook and that Theodora, wife of Justinian, imported cooks from Persia, India, Syria and the Greek mainland to serve at her court.

In the 10th century Liutprand of Cremona, an ambassador to the Imperial court, made disparaging remarks about refined wine and dishes cooked in oil, although he enjoyed some of the sauces and was impressed by the food at the Imperial table. He especially liked the roast kid stuffed with garlic, leeks and onions and dressed with garon sauce (probably a variety of the Roman garum, that notorious fermented fish sauce).

What did their food taste like? We have a number of earlier Greek cookbooks, such as Gastronomia by Archestratus (5th century B.C.), and we know what Greek cooking is like now. To tie them together we have the work of such scholars as Nicholas Tselementes, who traced back to earlier times such dishes as keftedes (meatballs made with grain), dolmades (grain and/or meat stuffed into vegetables or plant leaves and cooked), moussaka (a layered dish of meat, cheese and pasta or grain), yuvarelakia (meat and/or grain dumplings cooked in broth), and katavia, the Greek version of bouillabaisse. He also traced back to the ancient Greeks the making of white sauce --using flour and fat to thicken a broth or milk mixture. Although some of these dashes are now known to the world by Turkish or European name (even the Greeks call white sauce "béchamel"), their origins are Greek. We know they ate three meals a day --breakfast, midday and supper. They had many fast days. While the lower classes made due with what they could get, the upper classes were served three courses at their midday and supper meals consisting of hors d'oeuvres, a main course of fish or meat and a sweet course. They ate all kinds of meats including pork and numerous types of fowl. They ate large amounts of fish and other seafood. There were many types of soups and stews and salads were popular. They liked a variety of cheeses, and fruits were eaten both fresh or cooked. Fruits included apples, melons, dates, figs, grapes and pomegranates. Almonds, walnuts and pistachios were used in many dishes as well as being eaten by themselves.

The recipes given here were created by taking modern Greek ones, removing or replacing non-period ingredients and attempting to reconstruct cooking methods. They are the types of dishes that would have been served by the common people or middle classes rather than to the Imperial household.



Avgolemono Sauce




This is a fish soup, which is improved by having as many different varieties of fish as possible. You can make it with salt or fresh water fish, but you will need at least 2 or 4 varieties for he best results.



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