Ancient Egyptian food: from both Africa and West Asia
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 came from West Asia.
Bread and beer
Egyptian bakers used both wheat and barley to make bread and soup and porridge (like oatmeal). They also fermented barley to make beer.
Very likely the Egyptians first started growing grain in order to make beer. They only later figured out that you could make bread with it too.
In ancient Egypt, bakeries are often around the back of breweries, so they could share the yeast. This is an Egyptian model of beer jars: Egyptians put these models in your grave when you died so you would have beer in the next world.
Lamb and beef
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.
Egyptians stop eating pork – and start to eat chicken
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).
To replace the pork fat in their cooking, Egyptians invented foie gras. Then about 300 BC, when Greek kings were ruling Egypt, Egyptians started to eat a lot of chicken and eggs. The Egyptians got chickens from the Persians in Iran.
Egyptian scientists figured out a way to use artificial incubators to make chicken cheap enough to be affordable. Then they could raise a lot of chickens to eat, without having to feed a lot of hens to sit on the eggs.
Palm oil, watermelon, and other African foods
Fish from the Nile River
Egyptian food also included a lot of fish. People in Egypt ate a lot of fish from the Nile River, like tilapia and perch. They also went fishing in boats, in the Mediterranean Sea, for larger fish like tuna. They ate fish fresh, and also preserved. They made fermented fish sauces (kind of like ketchup) and dried fish and salted fish.
What did Egyptian people eat for dessert?
Above, there is a picture of some real doum palm fruits which were put into somebody’s grave; they were traditional funeral offerings in ancient Egypt. The dry climate preserved them for three thousand years until archaeologists dug them up again.
Learn by doing – A project with figs
More about the history of beer
Cooking an Egyptian meal
Go on to medieval Islamic food