How nutritious was the diet of ancient Egyptians?

July 12, 2016

While beer (see my blog of July 5, 2016), bread, and porridge, all made from emmer (now known as farro, a highly nutritious grain) were the staples of the Egyptian diet, we know the ancient Egyptians also ate other things such as wild game including hippos, gazelles, cranes, and hedgehogs; honey and dried fruits; wild vegetables, such as celery, papyrus stalks, and onions; and fish.


In THE DEADLIEST LIE, Miriam’s father, Isaac, tells about the Rhakotis quarter, where the poorest Egyptians lived and grilled their fish in community courtyards:


As expected, I encountered the most destitute conditions: the dreariest buildings, the dustiest yards, the grimmest alleys, the foulest gutters, the vilest graffiti, the hungriest mosquitoes, the scrawniest cats, the filthiest children, the saddest drunks, and the oldest whores. Trapped inside the quarter’s narrow brooding lanes that twist around a hodge-podge of makeshift dwellings, I thought the houses would topple over and bury me in their stinking rubble. Their windows are small, uncovered, and well above eye level, affording only air, a somber light, and the squalor of the street, not just its screeches and clatters but its festering stenches and smoke from the fish roasting in their courtyards.


We don’t have recipes, but we know from dioramas and the contents of tombs how foods were cooked. For example, wild gazelle might be roasted with honey, or duck might be spit-roasted and served with a berry-like fruit called jujubes. So, while their 

neighborhoods reeked of poverty, by today's standards, the diets of even the poor Egyptians were varied and healthful.




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Venture with Miriam into the claustrophobic underbelly of Alexandria at night.