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10 Weird and Fascinating Ancient Roman Foods

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Linnea has a fascination with intriguing and unusual things and is especially interested in their historical and cultural backgrounds.

Roman mosaic depicting preparations for the banquet

Roman mosaic depicting preparations for the banquet

Strange Ancient Roman "Delicacies"

We often hear about delicious and sometimes bizarre 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 relatively well-known to us and can still be eaten today, the others are surprising and can be considered weird by a modern person.

Weird Roman Foods

  1. Flamingo tongue
  2. Dormice
  3. Sea Urchins
  4. Garum
  5. Ice Cream
  6. Giraffe
  7. Jellyfish
  8. Ostrich
  9. Skated
  10. Stuffed Dates

1. Flamingo Tongues

Flamingo tongues were considered a very delicious food to be cooked and delivered to a Roman table. Not only was it said to be very tasty, but the luxury and delicacy of this dish was something that made the upper-class Romans love it.

The birds themselves were considered a representation of the owner's wealth, 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 of the flamingo were also considered a fine delicacy, so there were recipes for the whole bird to be prepared for a banquet.

2. Dormice

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 consumed 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 was to symbolize the owner's wealth. 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 wealthy Romans had their feast.

3. Sea Urchins

Another interesting ingredient of Ancient Roman cuisine is a sea urchin. The prosperous Romans mostly ate this unusual seafood. However, later finds suggest it could also be served to the lower class people in restaurants, along with other seafood, such as oysters, snails, and even sea scorpions.

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 included boiling them in a mixture of olive oil, sweet wine, and pepper.

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Garum amphorae reproductions

Garum amphorae reproductions

4. Garum

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 most modern people.

After being taken from fishermen, the ingredients were dipped in salt and placed in a special vessel (picture above) for several weeks, then 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 immensely, as well as the spices, but this unique sauce was considered one of the most popular foods in Ancient Rome. This sauce was known for being not only tasty, as descriptions say, but nutritious and rich in vitamins.

5. Ice Cream

Roman historian Suetonius says that Emperor Nero sent his slaves to the mountains to retrieve snow to mix with delicious juices and fruits, creating a sorbet to enjoy 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 where the weather was sweltering.

That said, it is very likely that other wealthy people also enjoyed this delicacy. Emperor Elagabalus reportedly ordered a mound of snow to be constructed in his garden during the summer, though it is unknown if he ate it or not.

6. Giraffe Meat

Giraffes were considered very exotic animals in Roman times.

Some emperors even thought that it was a good idea to use them during the games, fighting lions or each other, although the other members of the Roman society would disprove it. To them, the giraffe was a strange and helpless animal with a peaceful nature.

Archeologists found a giraffe's leg in the ruins of a Pompeiian restaurant. Even though it is unknown whether these unique animals were eaten in Rome daily, we can clearly say that such an event occurred.

7. Jellyfish

Even though jellyfish probably wasn’t eaten regularly. Mentions of it were found in Roman writings from the Apicius. The Apicius was the best collection of Ancient Roman recipes ever to survive; it even 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

Another food considered exotic and delicious in Ancient Rome was ostrich meat. These birds and giraffes were sometimes bought for impressive arena games, though the general public considered them rather ridiculous. Emperor Commodus was well-known for shooting off ostriches’ heads with his arrows and 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 provided 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 with the bird’s meat.

9. Skates

One more sea delicacy that the Romans were very fond of were sea skates. These creatures were usually boiled in water mixed with spices, herbs, wine, and vinegar and later served. All edible parts were cut off, and a sauce was made from the water it was boiled in.

Skate dishes still take part in the modern Italian cuisine. Some recipes go back to ancient times, making you think Ancient Romans loved the dishes made from them.

10. Stuffed Dates

One other fascinating Roman sweet were stuffed dates. Their pits were removed and the dates were stuffed with nuts, ground pepper and sprinkled with salt. After being filled, 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.

Sources

  • Romans Eating Habits
    A chef is unearthing recipes from one of the world's oldest cookbooks to reveal the origin of Italian food.
  • What Did Ancient Romans Eat?
    Our Roman cuisine enthusiasts answer your burning questions
  • 7 Weird Ancient Roman Recipes
    Roman cuisine was an exotic mush of brains, wine, and spices that masked the smell of rotting flesh. Read about their eclectic diets and food habits.

Comments

Disgusting on July 02, 2020:

That is disgusting

the romans on June 08, 2020:

I love flamingo tongues and sea urchins and how could you not I will find you

why on May 06, 2020:

why do they make a tongue

Bruh on May 05, 2020:

sea urchins?!?

samuel on April 29, 2020:

how could romans sleep

supercow on April 27, 2020:

how could the romans eat that.

Idk, Me? on April 27, 2020:

Hmm.... Some of those sound actually delicious lol

Firefox FQ on March 28, 2020:

Sorry not trying to trying rude

Firefox FQ on March 28, 2020:

Ancient roman diary hw is done! Wow. You think, "where do they get FLAMING TONGUES?!"

bob on January 29, 2020:

intresting

Fe on January 05, 2020:

Good For Projects

sat my name on December 03, 2019:

all of these things are delicious

Cryslen Marcy on November 17, 2019:

I think that the ice cream is good, I wanna try it I bet it slaps!

BILLY on November 04, 2019:

helped with hw a lot

lol why do they share this on October 30, 2019:

This is descusting inleast i got it for homework but ewwwwww im ganna be sick

Daddy on October 16, 2019:

noice

Lenard Hankie on October 15, 2019:

I got muscles like supermans trainer!! the food sounds yummyyy especially the flamingo tongue ;)

Lorey on October 11, 2019:

amassing website full of information:)

Strange boy on October 04, 2019:

Easy homework

Anonymous on October 01, 2019:

This helped with my homework for Latin

biy on August 21, 2019:

he footnote

Zac on August 19, 2019:

good for school work and if you are in STP give me a yelll!!!

Max on August 19, 2019:

EWWW! Jellyfish

Jeff on August 13, 2019:

Ew I'm disappointed!!!!!!!

I wouldn't eat that even if I lived in Ancient Rome

GROOOOSSSS

Girl Werewolf on June 24, 2019:

Very helpful with my school work!

Annie Mepham on June 02, 2019:

This was useful but I don't understand how the ice cream is weird I want some

chickie bae on May 23, 2019:

This made me laugh and it was very interesting. This helped me with my project, THANKS

Ralph on May 13, 2019:

awesome making me hungry

Rhapsody on May 01, 2019:

This article was really useful however im not sure why ice cream is weird!

sam on April 02, 2019:

add the recipes!!!!! this helps nothing without them

a person that used this article. on March 26, 2019:

this was super helpful with my school project. thank you!

lydia on March 11, 2019:

why did i have to see this it makes me throw up!

Asdf on February 26, 2019:

Ice cream why

billy on January 29, 2019:

give the recipes

Michał GraDuch Graduszewski on January 27, 2019:

grat you a good wish because of this

Patricia on December 22, 2018:

I made the stuffed dates as part of a reenactment at Vindolanda on Hadrians Wall. They were lovely.

Bush face on December 02, 2018:

Thank you so much! This helped me with my project so much. Loads of interesting information

yum on November 26, 2018:

look yum very helpful thanks

Ummmmm on November 24, 2018:

Thanks it’s great help for my homework

ha on November 22, 2018:

loser

MEEEEEEEE!!! on November 17, 2018:

This was very helpful for homework

Thank you very much.

keely on November 12, 2018:

this really helped me for my homework thank you Xx

calven on October 31, 2018:

I would like to eat the ice cream

rubv on October 31, 2018:

ok...

genea on October 16, 2018:

how is ice-cream weird food

Camille on October 15, 2018:

This was so much fun! I can’t believe how weird Romans were. All these foods that they are were so crazy. Overall this was an amazing expirience.

matttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttthew on October 07, 2018:

weird things to eat

Adam on September 24, 2018:

nice

Yo :D on September 17, 2018:

Wow that’s just weird

coc on September 15, 2018:

cool

Zucc on September 12, 2018:

Weird

Jack YEET Sparrow on September 11, 2018:

Thats just plain wierd

jeff on September 09, 2018:

just saying who would want to eat flamingo toungs

anonymous on May 20, 2018:

always watching...

ahoy on May 08, 2018:

i would never eat a jellyfish

e on May 06, 2018:

they would be very tasty

hey on April 25, 2018:

Thanks!

anonymous on February 08, 2018:

no sheep brain?

Noneofyourbusiness on November 28, 2017:

Very helpful! Does anyone know any Roman desserts that would be eaten at a wealthy banquet? Or any good websites? Thanks for uploading this - slightly disgusting but very helpful :)

Finn from Barstow on November 24, 2017:

well I don't think I would venture to some of those foods but it is interesting to hear about

e on November 20, 2017:

disgusting!!!

Poo on November 02, 2017:

Yummy

GuY MAnNNA on October 16, 2017:

Yummy i woud eat

interesting... on October 11, 2017:

this is very interesting...

wow... on October 09, 2017:

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

kenda on September 26, 2017:

thanks that helped me so much with my world history homework

WOW on June 24, 2017:

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

n on May 18, 2017:

good

it was really interesting looking at what the romans ate thank you for sharing it with us on May 08, 2017:

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

foodlover12 on May 02, 2017:

that food looks delicious

Lin (author) from USA on December 02, 2015:

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 from France on December 02, 2015:

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 :-)

Lin (author) from USA on November 30, 2015:

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 from Australia on November 30, 2015:

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

Lin (author) from USA on November 27, 2015:

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 on November 27, 2015:

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. :)

Lin (author) from USA on November 25, 2015:

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 from Ann Arbor on November 25, 2015:

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

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