Book: Al Dente - Madness, Beauty and the Food of Rome

On some much-needed slob time (see Moore Principle 5), I picked up a book not on running, but another passion: food. Given that nutrition is crucial to successful running, I figured I was halfway to something useful on my downtime anyway.

But this book wasn't just about food. It was about the consumption of it. The pleasure if it. The madness of it.

If there is one place on Earth where food is the essence of everything - from religion to sex - it's Rome. 

David Winner's 2012 book is a fascinating and bewildering insight into just how much food and drink has permeated the culture and psychology of Romans. This isn't a recent phenomenon. History and art record a centuries-long obsession with food, usually of extremes. Anorexic Catherine of Siena starved herself in the name of purity, becoming a national treasure and Saint. Filmmaker Marco Ferrari created the disturbing and grotesque La Grande Bouffe, where the central characters eat themselves to death in an orgy of gluttony.

One of my favourite chapters is not on food, but the water of the city. This was something I loved on my trip to Rome: the accessibility to free, sweet water flowing from the many fountains and taps on the streets. Water is the cornerstone to any civilisation and we all know how the aqueducts of the Roman Empire transformed the world. But I have yet to find anywhere else where the citizens describe their city's water as a way to connect with the "cosmos." 

Another brilliant chapter explores the not-so-ancient tradition of tiramisu. This wasn't a dessert created for Italy's first prime minister as originally reported, nor was it made simply for pleasure. Tiramisu was a medicinal concoction created in the 1970s to give energy to poorly children and the elderly. That's right, tiramisu lovers, that delicious, creamy treat calling to you from behind the counter of your local coffee shop is good for you.

Definitely worth remembering when you need a pick-me-up before your next run.


Al Dente: Madness, Beauty and the Food of Rome by David Winner was bought at South Kensington Books. £3.99. Also available on Amazon.

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