Food tastes tend to change over time as foods fall out of favor and are replaced by new ones. No time period illustrates our changing tastes more than Ancient Rome. Wealthy Romans ate foods that most of us would consider disgusting today. Here are just a few of the foods eaten by Rome’s elite that will either make your stomach turn or leave you scratching your head in wonder at their strange tastes.
If someone resorted to eating mice today, we would think they were either crazy or desperate. But these tiny rodents were favored by the most prominent Roman citizens. Before being cooked, these ancient Roman treats would be fattened up, since their weight was meant to symbolize the wealth and power of the host who served them. When served, they were often stuffed with pork or other meats and then dipped in honey.
Today, we have a range of sauces and marinades to flavor our food. The favorite sauce of Ancient Rome was a concoction called garum. This ketchup of the Roman Age was made from fish blood and intestines. It was prepared by mixing the fish parts in salt and leaving them in the sun to ferment for several weeks. After this, herbs would be added to flavor it. Rather than being used as a poison, this was actually one of the most popular Roman food items.
Flamingos were expensive birds, so serving one for dinner was a great display of wealth in Roman times. There are many recipes in existence that tell how to prepare flamingo meat, but the tongues especially were considered a delicacy. They were said to have a nice flavor, but the main purpose of eating them was probably to show off one’s wealth. The tongues of peacocks and nightingales were also highly prized food items.
Many people today enjoy eating pork, but in Ancient Rome they took their love of pork a step further than we do today. The wombs of sows who had never had piglets were a favorite dish of elite Romans. These wombs would sometimes be obtained by removing them before killing the sows. The famous Roman chef Apicius includes many recipes featuring sow’s womb in his cookbooks.
Though it wasn’t eaten often, due to the difficulty in capturing live ones, jellyfish was sometimes served at banquets held by the wealthiest of Rome’s citizens. Supposedly, one of the best ways to serve them was to mix them with eggs in an omelet. They might have also been served stuffed with other fish or meats and spices.
Ancient Romans ate many other animals that we would not consume today, such as giraffe and dolphin. Most of these dishes were only eaten by the very wealthy at banquets that were meant to impress more than they were meant to satisfy. The common people of Rome probably never tasted most of these items. While we might balk at these crazy food items, the Romans did leave us with one of our most popular and healthy food items: olive oil. So, despite their weird taste in food, it couldn’t have all been bad.