Five minutes about food with Mary Beard

Gigi Perry 14 November 2013

Britain’s best-known classicist and Cambridge’s coolest matriarch talks Marmite, ancient toffs and rotten fish sauce.

What was the last thing you ate? A piece of toast and marmite before I went to bed last night (wicked).

What’s your earliest food memory? School liver with all the veins in. I just had a letter from someone I had been at primary school with and she remembered that too (mind you the second helpings of mashed potato, all brown and crackly on top, were really delicious).

Do you live to eat or eat to live? Eat to live, of course.

Do you enjoy cooking?  Yes… if (and it’s a big if) I have time to enjoy it.

What’s your signature dish? Delia’s flaky fish pie, being rapidly overtaken by Ottolenghi’s meatballs with broad beans and lemon.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guests, dead or alive? I suspect the ancient toffs could be a bit of a bore, and ungrateful. I think I’ll invite a few slaves who usually did the serving. Bet they’d have some great stories to tell.

What do you eat when you’re writing? Toast and marmite (see above).

What is the most bizarre classical food trait that you have come across? I still can’t get my head around the Roman passion for rotten fish sauce.

Caligula with Mary Beard was broadcast in July 2013 on BBC Two. Follow Mary via her blog “A Don’s Life” on or twitter @wmarybeard.