‘The Raw and The Cooked’: ways of cooking and serving food in Byzantium
Flavours and Delights: Tastes and Pleasures of Ancient and Byzantine Cuisine, Athens (2013) 175-181.
Departing from ancient tradition, which associated the eating of uncooked food (ōmon) only with barbarians, raw food was widely consumed, above all in monastic communities, but also on an everyday basis in Byzantium. Raw food (ōma edesmata), fresh or dried uncooked foods (chlōra or xēra), especially vegetables, legumes and fruit, but also milk, honey and raw shellfish were an important part of the Byz- antine diet. From a Byzantine perspective both raw (ōma) and grilled or spit-roasted (opta) foods were the antithesis of what they considered to be “properly” cooked food (mageireuta), which involved skills ranging from some simple culinary process to the imaginative artistry of a cook (mageiros), as in the case of the more complex or “composite” dishes (mageireiai).
Of course, the term omophagy (ōmophagia), meaning the eating of raw food, is mainly used to condemn the bestiality of the barbarian or pagan eating of raw meat. The Emperor Julian mentions the eating of raw food (ōmophagia) citing those who “swallow down sea-ur- chins, oysters and in general everything of the kind without even heating them… just for the pleasure of the palate” (Julian Em- peror, To the Uneducated Cynics, 36-37. See also above pp. 81, 103). Accordingly the term omophagy is rarely used by the Byzantines, even to designate the eating of raw vegetables (Palladios, Vita 11, 4. 5). Nevertheless there is frequent mention in the monastic diet of the consumption of the raw (ōmon), uncooked or fresh greens and other vegetables, es- pecially cabbage, of uncooked fresh or dried pulses (usually soaked), fruit and nuts.