This New Museum Lets Visitors Explore History Through Food

A culinary delight!

Italian cuisine stars at Rome’s museum of food.

(Vera Prokhorova /

Food can bring people together. Barbeques, parties, and holiday meals are just a few of the ways family and friends can come together and bond through food. 

In ancient days, feasts and formal dinners also brought communities together. But, sometimes these gatherings featured dishes like eel pie or Bolognese frog liver fritters. In fact, Smithsonian Magazine reports that these odd fritters were 16th century Pope Pius V’s favorite. 

These ancient (and often defunct recipes) are on display, alongside antiquated cooking utensils, in the Museo della Cucina,  Italy’s new museum in Rome that is actually named after an ancient Roman fish-based sauce. The museum is dedicated to the history of food.

Culinary history is Italian history
Museo della Cucina is situated in a historically auspicious part of the city. According to the BBC Travel, it’s located on Palatine Hill, where the legendary lupine founders of Rome (Romulus and Remus) were reared, and where the ancient city was first founded.

It might seem strange to have a museum of food in such a historically significant location but it really is a good fit. 

“Cooking as a way of reading contemporary history has often been underrated. Cooking is a product of its time and it can tell us a lot about customs, ways of thinking, specific economic and political situations. So, a cookbook is often much more than it seems,” the museum’s director, Matteo Ghirghin, told BBC Travel.

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The history of recipes brings the history of the region to life. Among the 120 some ancient Italian cookbooks featured in the museum’s collection, a significant number from the era of Napoleon’s conquest of Italy feature French cuisine, attesting to the influence of French culture on 19th century Italy according to Hyperallergic.

One of the gems in the collection was written by  the private chef of Pope Pius V,  Bartolomeo Scappi.  This “tell-all” cookbook, The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi, revealed favorite Vatican recipes from 1570. 

Food bloggers of yesteryears
One of the more exciting and historically  telling cookbooks is Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, written by Italian chef Pellegrino Artusi in 1891. This cookbook contained a lot more than just recipes.

“Artusi was like the first food blogger,” Laila Tentoni, the president of Casa Artusi, a museum and culinary school, told BBCTravel. “Artusi suggests to be simple, to use local, seasonal and quality products. ‘Always you must choose the finest ingredients as your raw materials, for these will make you shine,’ Artusi wrote.”

He wrote in the cookbook: “Many people will read this recipe and cry out: ‘Oh what a ridiculous pasta!’” about his sweet pasta recipe, made with confectioner’s sugar, walnuts and allspice, which apparently appealed particularly to children.

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Italian food brought to life
If you yearn to try this “ridiculous pasta,” you may be able to do so in the Museo della Cucina. Museum director Ghirghini plans to host tastings and on-site banquets at the museum, according to BBC Travel. In addition to on-site tastings, the museum’s website aims to digitize the 120 historical cookbooks.

Ghirghini explained to BBC Travel, “Basically, you have access to a full virtual, illustrated, guided tour through five centuries of gastronomy.”

From eel pie to fried frogs legs; from 17th century salsa to sweet pasta and famous modern Italian culinary contributions like pizza, the Museo della Cucina aims to provide a “taste” of Italian history and some food for thought for Italian culture enthusiasts.

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