Man Recreates Ancient Roman Recipes Including 4th Century 'French Fries and Ketchup'

A man has been recreating ancient Roman recipes using a 4th century cookbook, including one which compares to modern-day "French fries and ketchup."

Andrew Coletti, a food historian, delves into the cuisines of long-forgotten cultures and brings them to life in his kitchen, then shares the results to his TikTok page @passtheflamingo.

Coletti, from New York, has whipped up medieval and Victorina dishes as well as recipes from 13th century Egypt, 11th century Persia, 14th century Spain, 15th century Turkey, 12th century Morocco and ancient Greece.

Speaking to Newsweek, Coletti said: "I've long been interested in using food to bring the past to life, because it's such a universal human experience.

"My interests in food and history developed in parallel for a while and gradually crossed over; I started doing events with tastings of historical food around 2016/17 and interned with a food historian (Sarah Lohman) who helped me start a food history blog. And then from there i got into making the videos!"

But it's his foray into the Roman empire which has attracted the most attention on social media, as he created a banquet of dishes from a cookbook known as Apicius.

The result probably looks very familiar, as Coletti explained it's the ancient version of French fries with ketchup, albeit with a twist.

He captioned the clip, which can be seen here: "Historical recipe: parsnip fries with wine sauce, Rome, 4th century AD.) It shows an appetizing plate not too dissimilar to what you could order in any restaurant today."

The 30-year-old told Newsweek: "Apicius is in Latin, I was a classics major in undergrad and I studied Latin and ancient Greek although I wouldn't say I read fluently, I use a dictionary for help nowadays as I'm quite rusty!"

Coletti shared the recipe, saying: "Ancient roman fries. The Romans didn't have potatoes, which are native to the Americas, but this recipe, from the 4th century cookbook Apicius, bears a striking similarity to French fries and ketchup."

Screengrab from @passtheflamingo's video.
Screengrab from @passtheflamingo's video. The New Yorker made a recipe which bears an uncanny resemblance to French fries and ketchup. @passtheflamingo

He joked: "Apicius says to fry parsnips in olive oil. I used my extremely authentic 4th-century air fryer, and top them with a sweet, salty, savory sauce called oenogarum."

While it may sound like an unusual combination, Coletti continued: "This was a standard condiment used with many recipes, and the name comes from a combination of the Greek words for the two main ingredients. Wine, and fish sauce."

Revealing exactly how to make it, he said: "To make it, you reduce wine over the stove and add fish sauce and two spices: black pepper and lovage, which has a flavor and smell similar to celery. A starch slurry is used to thicken the sauce, I used cornstarch but the Romans used extracted starch from wheat.

Screengrab from @passtheflamingo's video.
Screengrab from @passtheflamingo's video. While the sauce may look like ketchup, it's in fact made from red wine and fish sauce. @passtheflamingo

"At this point Apicius says that honey is optional, but I think it really takes it to the next level. This is probably my favorite ancient Roman recipe ever. It fits right into a banquet of other Apicius recipes. But it would also fit it at a modern table."

And they had other similar dishes that wouldn't be out of place on a modern menu, as Coletti added: "The Romans did consume ground meat patties and upper-class Romans ate flavored shaved ice as a delicacy, so if you're looking to start a restaurant, how about an ancient Roman diner, complete with burgers, shakes and ancient Roman fries."

He told Newsweek: "One of my absolute favorites is the parsnip fries video that you've seen; there's also a Roman dish of baked scrambled eggs with asparagus I'm fond of and a lot of honey-soaked desserts (since refined sugar wasn't available)."

The clip, shared in August, amassed more than one million views, while another recipe, for a poppy seed cheesecake from the 4th century, was also seen more than a million times.

Other recipes from the same era included oyster patina, cucumber salad and oyster sauce, as Coletti explained: "The Romans loved oysters so much that they invented not only this special sauce for them, but also a special type of bread for them."

Commenting on the ancient fries, Dirtycommie420 wrote: "It's crazy how similar yet different food is from the past and now. Food really does bring people together."

"Potatoes and tomatoes are so vital, I can't believe they didn't know about them," Ashley Hazlehurst lamented.

Vincent Perrier joked: "As a Canadian, I can't not see this as a 400AD poutine."

Update 10/6/21, 11:25 a.m. ET: This article was updated with comment, photos and video from Coletti.