From the Dagestan and Chechnya entry in The Penguin Companion to Food:

Still on the topic of sheep, Chenciner observes that both main types of sheep are eaten: the plains sheep with fat tails, and the mountain sheep without. He quotes from Thomas Love Peacock (1823):
The mountain sheep are sweeter,
But the valley sheep are fatter,
We therefore deemed it meeter
To carry off the latter.

Peacock… hmm, was peacock ever eaten? Sure it was! “It was so greatly prized in classical Rome as a bird to serve at banquets that Cicero (1st century BC) said that it was ‘daring’ to give a banquet without one.” But

Witteveen…, in an essay which is the best source of information on the subject, observes that peacocks seem not to have made good eating. He cites modern experiments which confirm the view expressed by some authorities in premedieval and medieval times that the flesh of a peacock is tough and needs to be hung and then given a prolonged cooking if it is to be edible. Implicit confirmation is provided by the fact that when the turkey arrived from the New World it rapidly displaced the peacock… A full explanation of its high status at banquets for 1,600 years and its subsequent eclipse within a century would have to take into account more factors than can be considered in this brief note.


  1. This is somewhat offtopic, but would it be possible to post some more information about the Dagestan and Chechnya chapter? I’m quite curious as I’ll hopefully be visiting Dagestan in about 2 months. I presume the food will be similar to Georgian, Turkish and other North Caucasian cooking (but “poorer”, if you know what I mean). I just don’t want to get caught out having to eat some crazy eyeball stew or the like, as seems to happen in so much bad travel writing.

  2. This link should take you to the “search inside the book” page for Magomedkhanov; if it doesn’t work, go here, click on “search inside the book,” and enter “Magomedkhanov.” Then click on the “page 240” hit to get the Dagestan article (you’ll have to go to the next page to read the end, using the navigation arrow at the right) and on the “from Back Matter” link to get the relevant bibliography. Actually, it’s easy enough to copy out the latter here:
    MAGOMEDKHANOV, M. (1991),’Feasting after Fasting in Archi Village, Dagestan’, ed R. Chenciner, in Walker (1991).
    —(1993),’. . . Flavourings of some Dagestan Mountain Dishes’, ed R. Chenciner, in Walker (1993)
    —and LUGUEV, S. (1990),’Traditional Table Manners in Dagestan’, ed R. Chenciner, in Staple Foods, Oxford Symposium on Food History 1989, London: Prospect Books.
    WALKER, HARLAN (ed) (1991), Feasting and Fasting, Oxford Symposium on Food History 1990, London: Prospect Books.
    —(1993), Spicing up the Palate, Oxford Symposium on Food History 1992, Totnes: Prospect Books.
    Let me know if you have trouble accessing or reading the article pages, and I’ll copy them here as well.

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