10 Weird and Fascinating Ancient Roman Foods
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 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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.