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Food History

Ten Foods Eaten by Ancient Civilizations

By Peter Johnson
April 13, 2009
"Stuff the dormice with minced pork or...dormice chopped up with herbs, pepper, and pine nuts...and cook in a small oven." 
A Roman Feast
A Roman Feast -Roberto Bompiani

Ancient civilizations had an amazingly wide-ranging cuisine. The conquests, explorations, and trade routes of the Roman Empire provided the Romans with sources for the most diverse foodstuffs. This article will list ten of the countless different foods and dishes of ancient cultures, and show the way cultures and foods interlaced each other through trade.

1. The basic Roman staple was bread with honey, olive oil, sausage, or cheese. Romans also had numerous vegetables and herbs, including garlic, leeks, onions, rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, basil, shallots, cabbage, peas, celery, turnips, radishes, and asparagus, many of which were grown in Asia and Africa, and imported lettuce, cucumbers, beets, fennel, marjoram, cumin, and mustard from Mesopotamia.

2. In Rome, porridge was eaten for breakfast along with dates, honey, and pancakes. While in Britain, pottage with vegetables and fish, and wild game and mutton with bread was eaten for supper.

3. Many Roman recipes called for garum, a sauce made from fish and salt. Tiny dormice, stuffed and roasted with herbs, spices, honey, and pine nuts, were a favorite delicacy: "Stuff the dormice with minced pork or...dormice chopped up with herbs, pepper, and pine nuts...and cook in a small oven."

4. Romans ate small birds such as quail that were at times decorated with asparagus, eggs, and herbs. The Egyptians also hunted and preserved many different types of wild bird, such as pigeon, quail, goose, heron, and duck.

5. Bread was a very important food stable all over the world. Breakfast and lunch in ancient Greece was bread soaked in wine, served along with olives and cheese. Barley bread was the ancient Mesopotamian food stable. Bread was also a sable in Egypt.

6. Wild pigs and cattle were first domesticated by the Egyptians, although the meat was probably tough and rarely eaten except by the higher classes.

7. Fresh apples, apricots, cherries, grapes, figs, quinces, dates, melons, mulberries, pomegranates, pears, and plums were consumed for dessert in Egypt, Greece, Mesopotamia, Rome, and China.

8. Many crops where grown in China. Rice was the main source of food, along with millet, wheat, cabbage, bamboo, peas, and beans. The Chinese ate rice noodles or cakes with vegetables and fish, pickles, eggs, and poultry.

9. The Aztec diet included corn maize, avocados, tomatoes, squash, beans, peppers, atole, which is a maize porridge with chilies and vegetables, tortillas, and tamales. Chocolate was reserved for warriors and nobility. Meat came from turkeys, ducks, dogs, and wild game.

10. The Inca food was similar to the Aztecs, but also included quinoa, potatoes, llama, alpaca, guinea pig, deer, and insects. Frogs, mushrooms, fish, and exotic fruits were eaten by Inca royalty.

From the ancient hunter-gathers to the finest French restaurant, food has been continually evolved and shaped within the gastronomy of cultures; and food sources have interlaced one another through trade for thousands of years –and are likely to continue to do so.

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