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Roman Feast

Hey! Hey! (or if we’re striving after authenticity: Ohe! Ohe! or Eia! Eia! or possibly even Age! Age! ): as part of the 2015 Melbourne Food and Wine Festival we staged our first Roman Feast Among the Vines at Mount Terrible last February.30 guests, 30 different dishes. Ben Davies, Mel Crow, Janene and I over-catered somewhat, from an as-it-turned-out unfounded anxiety that people would go Foedus! when served Snails in fish sauce, Oysters with lovage and honey or Liver Oxyrhynchus. So we tried to cover our clunes (go check Google Translate) by making sure there was plenty of Roast Sucking Pig a la Vitellius and Chicken a la Fronto to keep the less adventurous happy. We needn’t have worried. Everybody liked everything.

Check out our video:

If we’ve piqued your interest, Ben and I are planning another Roman Org – Feast, Banquet, what am I thinking of? – in a couple of months. Drop us an email if you think you might want to be there.

Or if you fancy experimenting with a little Ancient Roman cookery at home, the following 2,000 year old recipe for Duck with turnips from De Re Coquinaria by Marcus Apicius is a good place to start:

Apicius vi 2 iii

Anatem ex rapis: lavas, ornas et in olla elixabis cum aqua, sale et anetho dimidia coctura. rapas coque, ut exbromari possint. Levabis de olla, et iterum lavabis, et in caccabum mittis anatem cum oleo et liquamine et fasciculo porri et coriandri. Rapam lotam et minutatim concisam desuper mittis, Facies ut coquatur. Modica coctura mittis defritum ut coloret, ius tale parabis: piper, cuminum, coiandrum, laseris radicem, suffundis acetum et ius de suo sibi, reexananies super anatem ut ferveat. Cum ferbuerit, amulo obligabis, et super rapas adicies. Piper aspargis et adponis…

Which means:

Duck with Turnips. Wash and truss the bird and boil it in a large saucepan with water, salt, dill until half done. Cook the turnips so they lose their pungency. Remove the duck from the pan, wash again, and put into another saucepan with oil, liquamen and a bouquet of leek and coriander. Put over it one washed and finely chopped (raw) turnip and braise. When it has been cooking for a while add defrutum to give it colour. Then prepare the following sauce: pepper, cumin, coriander, asafoetida root, add vinegar, and some of the cooking liquor; pour over the duck and bring to the boil. When it boils thicken with cornflour, and add to the turnips. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

If you want to give this a go, there’s a couple of things you need to know:

1) Weird Ingredients:

Liquamen is Thai Fish Sauce, more or less.

Defrutum is unfermented grape juice boiled down by three quarters so that it becomes a thick sweet syrup. You can do this yourself with supermarket grape juice or buy an (immeasurably superior) version made from fresh winegrapes from us.

Asafoetida (aka Devil’s Dung) is a yellow powder that smells like decomposing cabbage with an arriere-gout of septic tank. Not everyone exposed to the uncooked spice feels as strongly as I do about it – some people actually seem to quite like disgusting smells – but for me ‘foetida’ constitutes a serious understatement. In the early days whenever a recipe called for the stuff I simply forgot to remember to add it, and so it continued until an Indian friend explained that cooking, specifically frying in oil, transforms the putrid stench into an agreeable garlicky-onion aroma. And that’s exactly how it is: so if you plan to use Asafoetida, take a tip from me and FRY IT FIRST.

2) There aren’t any quantities. There almost never are with Roman recipes. This is what I think works:

Parboil the turnips for 8 minutes (less if they’re baby turnips), then add them to the pan with the duck, part way through the roasting process. Baste generously with defrutum.

Boil duck with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp chopped dill for 50 minutes, remove duck from saucepan, reserve 250 ml of duck stock.

Put bouquet of leek and fresh coriander inside duck body cavity. Baste with defrutum. Roast duck in hot (250 deg C) oven for about 40 mins, basting frequently with approximately 4 TBsp of defrutum.

Make sauce by combining ¼ tsp black pepper, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 tsp ground cumin, pinch of (fried) asafoetida, 1 TBsp of red wine vinegar, 250 ml duck stock, thickened with cornflour mixed with water.

For more information on how to address the peculiarities of Ancient Roman cooking, you might like to visit

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