On November 8, 1519, just outside what is now Mexico City, conquistador Hernan Cortes attended a ceremonial dinner given by Montezuma II.
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The Aztec king was not sure whether Cortes was friend or foe. He’d carried out his daily ritual, which involved killing and eating specially fattened young people, but it had not enlightened him.
Montezuma preferred to dine in private behind a screen, but when he was done, the royal feast was taken to the conquistadors, more than 300 dishes. There were white tortillas and various breads, fruit and cocoa to accompany the crocks of roast duck, rabbit, turkey, pheasant and venison.
As they dug in, the Europeans were disconcerted to find that some of the dishes contained human arms and legs.
I spoke with William Sitwell, author of “A History of Food in 100 Recipes,” on the following topics:
1. Great vs. Terrible Food.
2. Cannibals & Chocolate.
3. Italy Loves Pasta.
4. Taste & Availability.
5. Foodie Trends.
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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)
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