Arms of George Neville (c. 1432 – 8 June 1476),
Archbishop of York and Chancellor of England.
The historian Paul Freedman gives a thorough account of the days-long banquet in his book Out of the East: Spices and the Medieval Imagination. At one point he uses this and another banquet to illustrate the Medieval European preference for meats—“the banquet menus read like extreme examples of a high-protein diet.”
304 piglets (like veal?)
204 kids (young goats, presumably)
That’s modesty for you.
Game animals (stags, bucks and “venison pastries”?) were slaughtered in similar proportions, but fowls apparently were the main attraction, with more than 10,000 birds prepared by hundreds of chefs. Freedman counts the types: swans (400), peacocks (400), cranes (204), and presumably less-expensive pigeons, which numbered 4,000.
Seafood also made the menu, four porpoises and eight seals standing out among lobsters, eels, and other fishy attractions.
The banquet was held at the Castle of Cawood near York. Seven tables divided the clergy and other officials present by rank, and that was just the main hall. Other rooms held nobles, landowners, and ladies of the region.
Freedman continues with a second example banquet, this one held for the enthronement of Bishop John Chandler of Salisbury in 1414 (or possibly 1417). For this meal, Freedman provides a menu that lists out three courses, all meat: the first oiled meats including swan, capon, pheasant, and peacock; the second roasted including piglet, kid, crane, and partridge; and the third, fried, with treats ranging from pigeon to rabbit to quail and lark. Both Neville's and Chandler's celebrations illustrate fully a sheer love for meats in medieval Europe.
In Southeast Asia by contrast, fish and rice were the dominant source of calories for the common people—not a negative thing given the variety and abundance available. In Malacca, fishing was the chief occupation for men (Anthony Reid / Ma Huan). And while Southeast Asian rulers and merchants held lavish festivals of their own, meat generally held a ritual character, Reid wrote, and it was eaten only when fresh, right after slaughter.
For Southeast Asian travelers to Europe, such as Enrique of Malacca, the European palate would have been an acquired taste.
4. Reid, Anthony. Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680. United Kingdom: Yale University Press, 1988.
5. As I was polishing this piece up, my son texted that he was stopping for Indian food and asked if he could pick some up for me. I ordered vegetarian.
By John Sailors
Enrique of Malacca's Voyage
Antonio Pigafetta's account of the Magellan-Elcano voyage gives us both first-hand historical detail and color—the human aspects of the journey. The Italian scholar learned all he could about the cultures that Magellan's fleet encountered, even sitting down and recording samples of languages.
An excellent example of Pigafetta's curiosity and fascination is his description of the coconut and the palm tree, which he learned about soon after the fleet's arrival in the Philippines. Like the pineapple Magellan tried in Rio, the coconut was an unknown. "Cocoanuts are the fruit of the palmtree. Just as we have bread, wine, oil, and milk, so those people get everything from that tree. Read more.