What did people eat in ancient Egypt?

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Egyptian Food

bread from the New Kingdom
(Vatican Museum, Rome)

Because Egypt is in Africa, but very close to West Asia, what people ate in ancient Egypt was midway between African and West Asian food. Wheat, barley, and olive oil, all originally from West Asia, gave Egyptians most of their calories.

Egyptian beer jars
models of clay beer jars
(Louvre Museum, Paris)

Egyptian bakers made both wheat and barley into bread and into soup and porridge (like oatmeal), and they also fermented barley to make beer. Some people even think the real reason that the Egyptians first began growing grain was to make beer. This is an Egyptian model of beer jars, which the Egyptians made to put in your grave when you died so you would have beer in the next world.

Egyptian model butcher shop egypt
Model of a butcher shop
(from the Louvre, Paris, France)

Egyptians didn't eat a lot of meat, but their meat also came from animals that had been domesticated further north in West Asia or Central Asia: mostly beef and lamb. You could go to a butcher shop and buy lamb there, just as people do today, or a duck or goose. Only because it rarely rains in Egypt, they could have the meat outside in the courtyard of the store instead of inside. Here is a model of a butcher shop, also from somebody's grave. Can you see the different cuts of meat all laid out? At the very bottom there is a whole leg of mutton. In the Old Kingdom, they ate pork, too. From the New Kingdom on, though, most rich people in Egypt would not eat pork, because they thought pigs were dirty and yucky (Poor people still ate pork though).

egyptian dates

But people in Egypt ate African food, too. They used palm oil for some recipes. For dessert, they liked to eat dates and figs and honey. This is a picture of some real Egyptian dates which were put into somebody's grave for them to eat in the next world, and which were preserved in the dry climate for three thousand years until archaeologists dug them up again.

Archaeologists have also found seeds which show that the Egyptians grew watermelons, and other kinds of melon.

Learn by doing - A project with figs
Go on to Islamic period food

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Egyptian food:

Egyptian Food Ancient Egypt

Eyewitness: Ancient Egypt, by George Hart. For kids.

Food and Feasts in Ancient Egypt, by Richard Balkwill (1994). For kids.

Farming and Food (The Ancient Egyptians), by Jane Shuter (1998). For kids.

Egyptian Food and Drink, by Hillary Wilson (1995). Not for kids, but a more detailed account.

Everyday Life in Ancient Egypt, by Lionel Casson (revised edition 2001). Not especially for kids, but pretty entertaining reading, and Casson knows what he's talking about.

More about African Food
More about West Asian Food
More about ancient Egypt
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Copyright 2012-2015 Karen Carr, Portland State University. This page last updated August 2015.

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