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Alan Davidson (Erasmus Prize 2003)

Alan Eaton Davidson CMG (30 March 1924 – 2 December 2003) was a British diplomat and historian best known for his writing and editing on food and gastronomy. He was the author of the 900-page, encyclopedic The Oxford Companion to Food (1999, second edition 2006).

Early lifeEdit

The son of a Scottish tax inspector, Davidson was born in Derry, Northern Ireland. His family travelled around the UK because of his father's job, but they eventually settled in Leeds, where Davidson attended Leeds Grammar School. Davidson studied classical languages at Queen's College, Oxford. During World War II, he served in the Royal Navy as an officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.


In 1948, Davidson joined the Foreign Office and served in diplomatic posts in Washington, Tunis, Brussels, Cairo, the Hague; from 1973 to 1975, he was ambassador to Laos. While living in Tunis, his wife asked him to look for a cookbook on fish because she did not recognize any of the local varieties. Not being able to find one he wrote one himself together with the Italian ichthyologist Giorgio Bini, the world's greatest living authority on seafish in the Mediterranean at this time, who happened to be visiting. The original manuscript was copied with a stencil machine. A copy of Seafish of Tunisia and the Central Mediterranean reached the British cooking guru Elizabeth David, who passed it on to Penguin Books, which published it in 1972 as Mediterranean Seafood. The book has since become a standard reference work, and is characterized by its very creative mixture of biology and recipes.

This was followed by Seafood Of South East Asia (1976) and North Atlantic Seafood (1979), for which he travelled throughout the region, gathering thousands of recipes from Portugal to Iceland. He was a noted expert on Lao cuisine, which he introduced to the West through his two books, Traditional Recipes of Laos, and Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos.

In 1979, Davidson was Alistair Horne Research Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford.[1] In the same year he began to edit Petits Propos Culinaires, a journal of food studies and history, published by Prospect Books, which he founded in 1979 for that purpose. He also convened a symposium on food history, which grew into an annual event known since 1981 as the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery.


In 2003, Davidson was awarded the Praemium Erasmianum Foundation's Erasmus Prize.[2][3]

On 17 March 2010, BBC Four televised in the UK a documentary called The Man Who Ate Everything, a portrait of Alan Davidson by Andrew Graham-Dixon.

Books by Alan DavidsonEdit

  • Mediterranean Seafood, 1972
  • Seafood of South-east Asia, 1976, revised edition 2003, ISBN 1-903018-23-4
  • Fish and Fish Dishes of Laos, 1975, ISBN 0-907325-95-5
  • Petits Propos Culinaires (periodical), editor, 1979, ISSN 0142-7857
  • North Atlantic Seafood, 1980, ISBN 978-1-58008-450-5
  • Oxford Symposium on National & Regional Styles of Cookery, editor, 1981
  • Phia Sing: Traditional Recipes of Laos, editor, 1981, ISBN 0-907325-02-5
  • Food in Motion: the migration of foodstuffs and cookery techniques: proceedings, editor, 1983
  • On Fasting and Feasting: a personal collection of favourite writings on food and eating, 1988, ISBN 978-0-356-15637-8
  • Seafood: a connoisseur’s guide and cookbook, 1989, ISBN 0-85533-752-4
  • A Kipper with my Tea: selected food essays, 1990, ISBN 978-0-333-47408-2
  • The Cook’s Room: a celebration of the heart of the home, 1991, ISBN 978-0-86824-456-3
  • Fruit: a connoisseur’s guide and cookbook, 1991, ISBN 0-85533-903-9
  • Oxford Companion to Food, 1999, ISBN 0-19-211579-0. 2nd edition 2006 ISBN 0-19-280681-5
  • Trifle, 2001, with Helen Saberi, ISBN 1-903018-19-6
  • The wilder shores of gastronomy: twenty years of the best food writing from the journal "Petits Propos Culinaires" , editor with Helen Saberi, 2002, ISBN 1-58008-417-6
  • The Penguin Companion to Food, 2002, ISBN 0-14-200163-5


  1. ^ Paul Levy, Out To Lunch (London, 1986) p. 31
  2. ^ "Alan Davidson, 2003". Praemium Erasmianum Foundation. Retrieved 26 July 2015.
  3. ^ van Otterloo, Anneke (2004). "Culinary historian Alan Davidson receives Erasmus Prize 2003". Food & History. 2 (2): 181–182. doi:10.1484/J.FOOD.2.300102.

External linksEdit