Daniel Russell knows how to find the answers to questions you can’t get to with a simple Google query. In his weekly Search Research column, Russell issues a search challenge, then follows up later in the week with his solution—using whatever search technology and methodology fits the bill.
The short answer is that garum (a kind of fish sauce) was famously made in Pompeii, the city buried by the eruption in 69 AD by the volcano Vesuvius. The liquid garum sauce was and packaged in amphora for shipment around the Mediterranean. The major flavor of garum is called umami, a taste discovered and labeled by Japanese professor Kikunae Ikeda (池田 菊苗) in 1908.
As I mentioned, I was in Barcelona a while back and while touring the Roman ruins there I learned about the method of producing garum, a very smelly process by which fish offal (all the blood, guts, scales, fins, etc.) were all dumped into a vat with plenty of salt and left to ferment in the warmth of the sun for many, many weeks. The liquid that was left after the fermentation was then drawn off the vats and placed into amphorae for distribution.
This (at right) is a mosaic of a garum-filled amphora from the villa of Aulus Umbricius Scaurus, Pompeii. The inscription reads: G(ari) F(los) SCAM(bri) SCAURI. (Or, “Garum from Scambri Scaurus.” (Photo by: Claus Ableiter, on Wikipedia)
This sounded fairly disgusting to me until someone pointed out that this kind of fish sauce is actually a major component of things I know and love—Worchestershire sauce or Vietnamese fish sauce (aka nước chấm), both of which I have in my fridge. Nothing changes your opinion so quickly as finding out that you actually LIKE it and have been eating it for years!
Still, garum production facilities, such as those at Pompeii or the ones I visited in Barcelona, were kept outside the city walls and usually pretty close to the port (which was usually pretty smelly as-is).
To solve the challenge: As several readers pointed out, you COULD clip apart the composite image I made and do a search-by-image for each of the parts. But you already know how to do that…so let’s talk about a different approach.
Another way to approach this would be to start with the one of the concepts that seems well-defined and work outward from there. In this challenge, the idea of the “Mediterranean volcanic explosion” seems pretty well-defined, so lets start with:
[ volcanic explosion Mediterranean ]
and do a straightforward visual scan of the results from Image search. That gave me a lot of dramatic images of red and orange explosions, so I limited the results to black and white to match the image in the banner above. Once I did that, I quickly spotted that image in the results. That told me it was Vesuvius, and that made me suspect that Pompeii was involved.
My next search was to follow my hunch connect the volcano with Pompeii and with processed food:
[ Pompeii processed food ]
Which led me to a few articles on food processing, including “Food technology in the ancient urban context” (by Robert Curtis, Department of Classics, U. Georgia). This was my aha! moment. Curtis describes the production of fish sauces in vats much like the ones in the photo above.
So know I want to read about fish sauce in Pompeii.
[ fish sauce Pompeii ]
then leads to lots of information about garum and other fish sauces: liquamen, allec, and muria. Check out the Silk Road Gourmet for recipes on how to make your own garum and liquamen. Careful: do this far away from your house.
Reading around on this SERP jars very similar to those in the header, and indicated that the process was done outside of the city due to its smell.
Finally, I had to figure out the connection to the professor. I searched for:
[garum professor ]
and spotted only one name that would be plausibly Japanese in the list. Clicking through led me to learn about Professor Kikunae Ikeda. He’s the man who first scientifically identified umami as a distinct flavor in 1908. (And, incidentally, got the world to think about MSG as a flavor enhancer.) Umami is a loanword from Japanese (うま味) and can be translated “pleasant savory taste”. The term is derived from umai (うまい) “delicious” and mi (味) “taste.” It turns out that our tongue has receptors for L-glutamate, which is the reason you can taste the umami flavor.
And now, for the piece de resistance… Just on a lark I went looking for a modern recipe that uses garum (or the modern version) and found several. But my favorite has to be spaghetti with grape tomatoes, garlic, and garum.
I have to try this tonight!
For those of you interested in all of this, it’s worth knowing that there is still an on-going debate about whether or not some garum produced in Pompeii was kosher or not. (Seethis.)
I have no opinion about this, and I’m not even going to try and dredge up Roman web-sites from 79AD to confirm or deny the rumor.
Search lesson: Start with what you can figure out (in this case, the volcano was easiest for me), and work outwards looking for the connections between the ideas. You’ll often spot them as you scan the SERP looking for interlocks (as I did when I spotted the Japanese professor’s name and was able to track him back to umami and the flavor of garum).
Search Answer: What’s the connection? | SearchReSearch
Daniel M. Russell studies the way people search and research—an anthropologist of search, if you will. You can read more from Russell on his SearchReSearch blog, and stay tuned for his weekly challenges (and answers) here on Lifehacker.
Image via mal.entropy (Flickr).
Source : http://feeds.gawker.com/~r/lifehacker/vip/~3/RglEA0Ye2g0/search-answer-whats-the-connection