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10 Weird and Fascinating Ancient Roman Foods

Updated on February 4, 2017
Roman mosaic depicting preparations for the banquet
Roman mosaic depicting preparations for the banquet | Source

We often hear about delicious and sometimes very strange foods from Ancient Rome. The empire indeed had a great variety of unusual dishes and was well-known for its cooking experiments. Roman cuisine didn’t really have borders, and while some dishes are rather well-known for us and can still be eaten today, the others are surprising and can be considered weird by a modern person.

1. Flamingo tongues

Flamingo
Flamingo | Source

Flamingo tongues were considered a very delicious food to be cooked and delivered to a Roman table. Not only it was said to be very tasty, but the luxury and delicacy of this dish was something which made the upper class Romans love it. The birds themselves were considered a representation of the wealth of the owner, and sacrificing a bird in the name of gods was a very fancy gesture too. Flamingo tongues were described as having an “especially nice taste,” though not only this part of flamingoes was popular. The other parts were considered a fine delicacy as well, so there were recipes for the whole bird to be prepared for a banquet.

2. Dormice

Dormouse
Dormouse | Source

It can be a weird idea to the modern person to eat a dormouse, though some in some cultures and countries it is still being eaten as a delicacy. In Rome the fattest and heaviest of these little animals were considered a treat, so they were often fattened up before being eaten. A dormouse was usually served for dinner, showing the guests how heavy it is and symbolizing the wealth of the owner of the house. The dormice were often stuffed with other meat and dipped in honey, which added to the taste, and made them look even more luxurious when the rich Romans were having their feast.

3. Sea urchins

Sea urchin
Sea urchin | Source

Another interesting ingredient of Ancient Roman cuisine is a sea urchin. This unusual seafood was mostly eaten by the rich Romans, though later finds suggest it could also be served for the lower class people in restaurants, along with other sea food, such as oysters, snails, and even sea scorpions that were favored by the Roman citizens. It could be served during the rich banquets and was considered a very tasty dish. The remains of sea urchins in cuisine were found during archeological works in Pompeii among other popular foods of those days, such as walnuts and grains. Although eating a sea urchin may sound weird, sea foods were very highly praised and loved during the Roman times, so there is nothing specific in them taking their place in Ancient Roman cuisine. Many ways of preparing sea urchins existed, most of them consider boiling them in a mixture of olive oil, sweet wine and pepper.

4. Garum

Garum amphorae reproductions
Garum amphorae reproductions | Source

Garum was a sauce that was extremely popular in Ancient Rome and was often added to literally everything. Garum was made from fish intestines and blood, and the way it is prepared would probably horrify the most of the modern people. After being taken from fishermen the ingredients were dipped in salt and placed in special vessel for several weeks, where they laid out in the sunlight. This led to the fermentation of the substance. Later the upper layer of the mixture was taken off, and that was the garum. Later, herbs and spices could be added to the sauce. The kinds of fish that garum would be made from varied greatly, as well as the spices, but this unique sauce was considered one of the most popular foods in Ancient Rome, being not only tasty as descriptions say, but nutritious and rich of vitamins.

5. Ice cream

Strawberry sorbet
Strawberry sorbet | Source

It is said by Roman historian Suetonius that Emperor Nero sent his slaves up to the mountains to bring some snow for mixing it with delicious juices and fruits, creating some kind of a sorbet to enjoy it during the hot summer. The snow in summer was naturally considered a rare and treasured thing, and was used by not only Ancient Romans, but also Greeks and Egyptians for the summers in the regions were the weather was extremely hot, so it is very likely that not only the emperor but other wealthy people would enjoy this delicacy. Emperor Elagabalus reportedly ordered a mound of snow to be constructed in his garden at summer time, though it is unknown if he ate it or not.

6. Giraffe meat

Giraffes fighting
Giraffes fighting | Source

Giraffes were considered very exotic animals in Roman times. Some emperors even thought that it is a good idea to use them during the games, fighting lions or each other, although the other members of the Roman society would disprove of it. To them the giraffe was a strange and helpless animal with a peaceful nature. A leg of giraffe was found by the archeologists in the ruins of a Pompeiian restaurant, and even though it is unknown if these unique animals were eaten in Rome on daily basis, we can clearly say that such event took place.

7. Jellyfish

Jellyfish
Jellyfish | Source

Even though jellyfish probably wasn’t eaten on regular basis, mentions of it were found in Roman writings. Apicus, the best collection of Ancient Roman recipes to ever survive, mentions a jellyfish omelet as an appetizer. Along with other delicious foods jellyfish wouldn’t be something you would regularly eat in Rome, and most likely it would be served during the banquets of the wealthy people.

8. Ostrich

An ostrich
An ostrich | Source

One more food considered exotic and delicious in Ancient Rome was ostrich meat. These birds, along with giraffes, were sometimes bought for the impressive arena games, though it was considered rather ridiculous and Emperor Commodus, well-known for shooting off ostriches’ heads with his arrows, was often laughed at. Nevertheless Romans were very fond of the idea of having ostriches on their tables, despite how they looked, and these birds were considered exotic and tasty. The aforementioned Apicius book provides recipes for ostriches, and recommendations about how to serve them, mentioning the sauce which is a mix of spices, herbs and honey, which to the Romans’ mind fit very well to the bird’s meat.

9. Skates

Cooked skate
Cooked skate | Source

One more sea delicacy is a sea skate. Those creatures were usually boiled in water mixed with spices or herbs and wine, or vinegar, and later served, all edible parts cut off it and a sauce was made from the water it was boiled in. Several recipes of preparing skates existed, varying in sauces and the way of boiling it. Skate dishes still take their part in the modern Italian cuisine, some recipes going back to ancient times, which make you think the dishes made from them were really loved by Ancient Romans.

10. Stuffed dates

Dates
Dates | Source

One other fascinating Roman sweet was stuffed dates. Their pits were removed and the dates were stuffed with nuts, ground pepper and sprinkled with salt. After that these desserts were candied in honey and served. Dates themselves weren’t a rarity in Roman times, and were an extremely popular in Roman cuisine. Dates could be eaten as they are, or stuffed like in this recipe, and a date could be added to wine to sweeten the taste.

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    • profile image

      3 hours ago

      disgusting!!!

    • profile image

      Poo 2 weeks ago

      Yummy

    • profile image

      GuY MAnNNA 5 weeks ago

      Yummy i woud eat

    • profile image

      interesting... 5 weeks ago

      this is very interesting...

    • profile image

      wow... 6 weeks ago

      wow... im speechless, this is slightly disturbing!

    • profile image

      kenda 7 weeks ago

      thanks that helped me so much with my world history homework

    • profile image

      WOW 4 months ago

      Some of that food looks/sounds "ewwwww" but this is really interesting and useful so thanks a lot!

    • profile image

      6 months ago

      good

    • profile image

      it was really interesting looking at what the romans ate thank you for sharing it with us 6 months ago

      it was really interesting looking at what the romans ate thank you for sharing it with us!

    • profile image

      foodlover12 6 months ago

      that food looks delicious

    • Linnea Lewis profile image
      Author

      Linnea Lewis 23 months ago from South Carolina, USA

      Thank you, Stella! I did not know, or at least forgot about Cato..Thank you for information. Yes, yes, the dates are fascinating, but I think that is like they add both salt and sugar to chocolate or desserts these days, it adds to taste. Makes me really want to try some recipes though :)

    • Stella Nenova profile image

      Stella Nenova 23 months ago from France

      Nice collection, Linnea. I've particularly liked the sea urchins. If I remember correctly, not only Apicius but even earlier writers such as Cato have mentioned them. The dates also are interesting because, unlike today, they were sprinkled with salt and even sometimes with pepper, wich sound a bit odd to me :-)

    • Linnea Lewis profile image
      Author

      Linnea Lewis 24 months ago from South Carolina, USA

      Anne Harrison, that is the most fascinating part, that people still enjoy them! Well, the most of the poor Romans lived on bread and porridge, sometimes fruits and vegetables added to it. So it wasn't bad but also wasn't nearly as luxurious as the patricians' food.

      Thank you for reading and glad you enjoyed it!

    • Anne Harrison profile image

      Anne Harrison 24 months ago from Australia

      Strange as flamingo and dormice might sound, it's interesting that other dishes such as skate, sea urchin and jelly-fish are still eaten today (yes, I've tried them in various parts of the world!) I wonder what the slave and the lower classes feed off while these luxuries were on the table? Interesting hub, thank you

    • Linnea Lewis profile image
      Author

      Linnea Lewis 24 months ago from South Carolina, USA

      DabbleYou, I agree with you, I am pretty sure with right cooking and recipe those things could taste very good! Even though some of them sound like a really strange thing to eat :)

    • DabbleYou profile image

      DabbleYou 24 months ago

      Wow. I'm glad we don't have to eat those kinds of food these days. But if they are cooked right by a really good chef, I'm sure they're all just as delicious as the meat we eat today. :)

    • Linnea Lewis profile image
      Author

      Linnea Lewis 24 months ago from South Carolina, USA

      Thank you very much Chantelle, I'm glad you liked it! I'm also glad the poor flamingos are also spared a horrible fate, it's good we aren't as adventurous in our diets as the Romans were.

    • Chantelle Porter profile image

      Chantelle Porter 24 months ago from Chicago

      Flamingos are my favorite bird so I'm glad that was a fad that died out! Very interesting article. Sharing to my history group.