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Byzantine cuisine (Greek: βυζαντινή κουζίνα) was marked by a merger of Greek and Roman gastronomy. The development of the Byzantine Empire and trade brought in spices, sugar and new vegetables to Greece.
Cooks experimented with new combinations of food, creating two styles in the process. These were the Eastern (Asia Minor and the Eastern Aegean), consisting of Byzantine cuisine supplemented by trade items, and a leaner style primarily based on local Greek culture.
Byzantine food consumption was based around class. The Imperial Palace was a metropolis of spices and exotic recipes; guests were entertained with fruits, honey-cakes and syrupy sweetmeats. Ordinary people ate more conservatively. The core diet consisted of bread, vegetables, pulses, and cereals prepared in varied ways. Salad was very popular; to the amazement of the Florentines, the Emperor John VIII Palaiologos asked for it at most meals on his visit in 1439.
The Byzantines produced various cheeses, including anthotiro or kefalintzin. They also relished shellfish and fish, both fresh and salt-water. They prepared eggs to make famous omelettes — called sphoungata, i.e. "spongy" — mentioned by Theodore Prodromos. Every household also kept a supply of poultry.
Byzantine elites obtained other kinds of meat by hunting, a favourite and distinguished occupation of men. They usually hunted with dogs and hawks, though sometimes employed trapping, netting, and bird-liming. Larger animals were a more expensive and rare food. Citizens slaughtered pigs at the beginning of winter and provided their families with sausages, salt pork, and lard for the year.
Only upper middle and higher Byzantines could afford lamb. They seldom ate beef, as they used cattle to cultivate the fields. Middle and lower class citizens in cities such as Constantinople and Thessaloniki consumed the offerings of the taverna. The most common form of cooking was boiling, a tendency which sparked a derisive Byzantine maxim—The lazy cook prepares everything by boiling. Garos fermented fish sauce in all its varieties was especially favored as a condiment along with the umami flavoring murri, a fermented barley sauce, which was similar to the modern umami flavoring, the fermented soy product soy sauce. Liutprand of Cremona, the ambassador to Constantinople from Otto I, described being served food covered in an "exceedingly bad fish liquor," a reference to the condiment garos.
Many scholars state that Byzantine koptoplakous (Medieval Greek: κοπτοπλακοῦς) and plakountas tetyromenous are the ancestors of modern baklava and tiropita (börek) respectively. Both variants descended from the ancient Roman Placenta cake.
Thanks to the location of Constantinople between popular trade routes, Byzantine cuisine was augmented by cultural influences from several locales—such as Lombard Italy, Persian Empire, and an emerging Arabic Empire. The resulting melting pot continued during Ottoman times and therefore modern Turkish cuisine, Arab cuisine, Greek cuisine and Balkans cuisine are all almost identical, and use a very wide range of ingredients.
Macedonia was renowned for its wines, served for upper class Byzantines. During the crusades and after, western Europeans valued costly Byzantine wines. The most famous example is the still extant Commandaria wine from Cyprus served at the wedding of King Richard the Lionheart. Other renowned varieties were Cretan wines from muscat grapes, Romania or Rumney (exported from Methoni in the western Peloponnese), and Malvasia or Malmsey (likely exported from Monemvasia). Retsina, wine flavored with pine resin, was also drunk, as it still is in Greece today, producing similar reactions from unfamiliar visitors, "To add to our calamity the Greek wine, on account of being mixed with pitch, resin, and plaster was to us undrinkable," complained Luitprand of Cremona, who was the ambassador sent to Constantinople in 968 by the German Holy Roman Emperor Otto I.
- Rena Salaman, "Food in Motion the Migration of Foodstuffs and Cookery Techniques" from the Oxford Symposium on Food Cookery, Vol. 2, p. 184
- Faas, Patrick (2005). Around the Roman Table. University of Chicago Press. p. 184-185. ISBN 0226233472.
- Speros Vryonis The Decline of Medieval Hellenism in Asia Minor, 1971, p. 482
- Ktisti, Sarah (Aug 11, 2009). "Ancient Cypriot wine enters vintage major league". Reuters. Retrieved 2009-08-12.
- Dalby, Andrew (2003), Flavours of Byzantium, Totnes, England: Prospect Books, ISBN 1-903018-14-5