Thursday, October 07, 2004

Modern Medieval-themed Restaurants Stereotype Lifestyle of the Middle Ages

By Mark Schatzker: "Since 1983, when its first 'castle' opened in Kissimmee, Fla., Medieval Times Entertainment Inc. has served over 20 million diners. But there's one problem. Medieval-themed feasts aren't medieval. The vegetable soup (dragon tail soup), bland roast chicken (baby dragon), baked potato (dragon egg), and doughy desserts certainly seem pre-modern, not to mention pre-food-processor. It's like the food is the culinary equivalent of the classic stereotype that casts medieval people as belching, rugged simpletons.

Medieval chefs used spices as enthusiastically as the boy bands of today use hair products. Yes, medieval chefs did serve plain roasted meats, but they also served many meat dishes that featured thick, gooey sauces very heavily flavored with ingredients like ginger, sugar, vinegar, wine, raisins, mace, cloves, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper, and honey. "Mawmenny," a typical dish, consisted of ground beef, pork, or mutton boiled in wine, which was then served in a wine-based sauce thickened with pounded chicken and almonds, then flavored with cloves, sugar, and more almonds (this time fried), and then festively colored with an indigo or red dye.

While a Medieval Times castle seats anywhere from 900 to 1,500 people a night, and the Excalibur's Tournament of Kings about 2,000 (a thousand at each seating), no present-day medieval feast comes even close to approaching the enormity of some of the Middle Ages' heavy-hitters. We don't know exactly how many people attended the marriage feast of Henry III's daughter in 1251, but we do know that they gorged on 1,300 deer; 7,000 hens; 170 boars; 60,000 herring; and 68,500 loaves of bread. They ate off rectangular pieces of stale bread called "trenchers" (which were fed to dogs or peasants once the meal was finished)."

I found this article fascinating although I must admit I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at Medieval Times in Buena Vista, California. Of course I was far more interested in the jousting and display of horsemanship than the meal!