Book Review: Medieval Tastes

Reviewer Note: I was given a review copy of this book for a review

Massimo Montanari’s Medieval Tastes: Food, Cooking, and the Table is a detailed, well-researched, and insightful look into the evolution of the culinary arts and how our modern concepts of “Medieval” food are, frankly, hilariously wrong. This is not a cookbook, but rather a historical account of the development of cuisine during the medieval period. Montanari discusses not only how our modern ideas of what foods were eaten during the Medieval era is flawed, but also how the foods items themselves were fundamentally different centuries ago.

Much of our modern thought on medieval cuisine is rooted in entertainment media and the romanticizing of the time period courtesy of medieval festivals and events. Montanari digs deep into the actual historical records to reveal how complex and at times controversial certain culinary movements were during the time period. It is an intriguing look into the day-to-day lives of both commoners and nobles and how food played a role beyond mere sustenance.

The book is weighed down, however, by the academic tendency to over-explain and use cumbersome language and sentence structures to make a point. Casual readers interested in the topic will not find the text easily accessible. Part of this may be the fault of the translator, as sections of the book do in fact read like literal translations instead of conversational ones. Perhaps a more careful attempt to make the work readable for English speakers would have made the text easier to follow. I should also note that my review copy was an unedited proof, and some of this awkwardness may have been rectified in the final, edited version.

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