We all know that times change, and as generations come and pass, borders between nations rise and fall, languages are born and die, and even food has to adjust with the times.
What you eat today vastly differs from what you would have eaten 1,000 years ago.
Let’s look at 25 Weird and Unusual Foods from Ancient Times.
Garum: The Fermented Fish Sauce of Ancient Rome
If you were looking for a little flavor back in the days of Ancient Rome, you wouldn’t look for the seasoning salt or sriracha, you’d grab some garum.
They’d use this a bit like ketchup on the side of a dish as a condiment, but it was made from fish that they allowed to ferment out in the sun in a clay pot with spices like dill and coriander or other herbs.
They even found sealed jars of it in Pompeii to get the spice mix down and recreate it in modern times. The result was a fishy, protein-packed umami-filled sauce.
Chicken is one of the most widely eaten proteins in the world today, but we do indulge in some other birds like turkey, duck and even ostrich now and then.
That said, flamingo is definitely one bird you won’t see served up all that often, but only in modern times. Back in the day it was definitely on the menu, if you could afford it.
Native to parts of Africa, the well-to-do culinary adventurers in Rome could afford to enjoy a braised flamingo.
If you were really in high society, you’d only eat the fanciest parts, the filet mignon of the flamingo as it were, which were things like the brain or the tongue.
There’s a chance that, even if you don’t know food history, you still know something close to a cockentrice.
This is especially true if you’re a fan of fantasy fiction and games like Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: The Gathering. That’s because a cockatrice was a mythological creature similar in both name and appearance to this dish.
In stories, a cockatrice did somewhat resemble a chicken but with reptilian legs and a tail. It was like a two-legged dragon. Like Medusa, its gaze could turn you to stone.
The cockentrice, a dish from the Middle Ages, was also an amalgam beast but in this case it was a suckling pig’s head and upper body literally attached to the hind end of a chicken.
Why would anyone make such a thing? So you could have pork and chicken for dinner, along with a little show when it came out to the table.
The Helmeted Cock
As we saw with the cockentrice, people back in the day liked a visual spectacle when it came to their food. Few dishes can come close to matching what the Helmeted Cock brought to the table.
Like a cockentrice it was a mishmash of chicken and pork. But, in this case, the chicken is riding the pig like it was a knight on its trusty steed.
Both animals were roasted, but the chicken was stuffed.
The recipe then indicates that you need to have it sit on the pig, you put a little paper helmet on its head, and give it a lance. You’d then dress it in the colors of the lord for whom it was being served.
Virgin Boy Eggs
This entry is gross so be forewarned. More concerning is the fact that, though there is evidence that this tradition started hundreds of years ago, there is one town in China where they still make this dish.
It’s called virgin boy eggs and they are eggs hard-boiled in the urine of boys under the age of 10. The schools in town literally have buckets set up for the collection of urine which the egg makers buy and use. Some just get it from the parents.
In case you’re wondering, the whole process apparently smells terrible, but the belief is they have health benefits. The town of Dongyang has been making them for hundreds of years.
If you like beer then surely medieval ale would probably be right up your alley. And if you like chicken then you could drink a beer alongside your chicken, right?
Well, some people didn’t have time for two things so in 1669 the recipe for cock ale was devised and it calls for you to mix a handful of fruit and spices like raisins and nutmeg into a bunch of ale with a boiled chicken.
Apparently there was a belief that the food you ate could give you some of the qualities that the creature possessed in life and chicken was prized for its vitality and vigor so if you drank chicken beer maybe you’d get some of that power.
It was also devised, in part, to get people to stop drinking coffee which was felt to be making English men too French.
Ostrich is farmed in a number of places these days but it’s still relatively rare and exotic to most of us.
Back in the day they were much rarer and, in Ancient Rome, they were considered very exotic and mostly saved for very special occasions.
Sour Ram’s Testicles
Also known as Súrsaðir hrútspungar, sour ram’s testicles come from Iceland. A lot of traditional Icelandic food is preserved because it was made in a time before refrigeration, so you needed a reliable way to preserve it over the long haul.
In this case, ram’s testicles would be pickled in whey for months and months until they were nice and sour. Then they can be pressed into blocks to make a sort of loaf that could be sliced and eaten.
Oddly enough, traditional foods like these made a comeback in Iceland in the 1950s, so, even though they had been pushed aside for quite a long time, they came back again and can be found in some places if you go hunting.
Irish cuisine is often unfairly limited to potatoes in most people’s minds, which misses the mark since Ireland had been populated for over 9,000 years before the potato even arrived.
Prior to potatoes there were many wild fruits and vegetables as well as a lot of seafood and shellfish. Dairy was also very big as they raised cattle not for beef but for milk and cheese.
There are stories of a kind of milk made in ancient Ireland that was yellow and bubbly. And if that doesn’t sound appetizing enough, you had to chew it rather than drink it. Like slowly, and for a long time, like it was a kind of dairy bubblegum.
In the west we don’t often hear a lot about Australian cuisine and when we do, it’s rarely aboriginal Australian cuisine. People lived for thousands of years off of the land in Australia, a place not known for being the most hospitable part of the world.
These fat, little grubs can actually be the larval form of several insects including some species of moths and beetles. They made their home underground in the roots of something called a witchetty bush, hence the name, Aboriginal people would dig them up and they provided a solid hit of protein.
Just 10 gives an adult all the protein they need in a day. Some say they taste almost like chicken, almonds or peanuts depending on how they’re prepared. Others say they taste like garbage.
Deep Fried Maple Leaves
Despite how it may seem, deep fried maple leaves are not a Canadian treat. Instead, they’re a traditional Japanese dish in one Japanese city, dating back hundreds of years, possibly 1,300 years.
They only use yellow leaves, on their journey from the green of summer to the red of late fall, and they can’t have fallen from the tree yet. The leaves are battered and fried and have a slightly sweet and salty taste to them.
Some cuisines are known for using all parts of a slaughtered animal. Many Western eaters find this odd and certain cuts are just not considered pleasant.
Things like brains and feet and organ meat are often ignored in Western cuisine. The Ancient Romans were clearly more adventurous with their dining, as witnessed in dishes like pig uterus.
Modern eaters who have tried the recipe don’t have a lot of nice things to say, especially about the smell.
If you were a poor, working class person in Victorian times, meat was hard to come by. Good meat, anyway. But you could always roll the dice on broxy meat to see what happens.
Broxy meat could be any meat from sheep to cow to pork that was taken from an animal that had dropped dead. It wasn’t slaughtered, it died, probably from a disease. So if the animal had a heart attack, maybe the meat was okay. If it had an infectious disease, maybe it would kill you, too.
This rare dish was once reserved for important members of the pre-Colonial Tenochtitlan society in Mexico. Modern pozole is made with pork or other meat. This ancient version? Human.
Fesikh, or feseekh, is an ancient Egyptian dish made from fermented fish once harvested from the receding banks of the Nile as the fish lay rotting in the sun.
The recipe is thousands of years old and, bafflingly, it has enjoyed a renaissance in modern times even though it can be poisonous if it’s made wrong. Fesikh is made by fermenting fish and the risk of food poisoning is high. 18 people died from eating a bad batch in 1991.
Ambergris is worth a lot of money and was highly prized in the perfume industry. It comes from whales and the use of it has dropped off considerably thanks to laws against whaling, but you can still sell it if you find a chunk that washes up on shore naturally.
And there was a time when it was a prized delicacy to eat, as well. So what is it? A very waxy substance produced in a whale’s digestive tract. They would excrete it, as in poop, and it could float around the ocean for years as the scent began to mellow and became desirable.
It was made from blood, pig’s leg, vinegar and salt. The vinegar kept the blood from clotting so, essentially, its just pig in pig’s blood with salt to taste. That’s pretty hardcore.
Salted, Pressed Fish Ovaries
The Nile River was obviously incredibly important to many aspects of life in Ancient Egypt and that included their diet. Seafood from the river was a major part of the Egyptian diet and sometimes it got a little weirder than just traditional fish or shellfish.
Though later versions from Italy and France were known as bottargo, the basic idea of salted, pressed fish ovaries was to cure or smoke the fish roe pouch and serve it sliced.
Pig Udder Stuffed with Sea Urchin
Chiefly known as a Biblical plague, locusts are also a good source of protein if you’re in a pinch, and the Ancient Greeks took full advantage of that for snacking.
You can still find grasshoppers and locusts on menus in some Asian countries, but Greece, where bread, olives, and seafood were abundant even in Ancient times, is a little more surprising.
Cannibalism is one of the great taboos of nearly every society and culture in history. Nearly every one. But not all of them. Some cultures didn’t consider eating the dead a violation. In Papua New Guinea, some of the tribes there would eat their dead.
To most other cultures this sounds gruesome if not downright terrifying. But from the perspective of the tribes this was the ultimate act of love. If they buried their dead in the ground, they would rot and be eaten by insects. So by eating their own dead, they were saving them that fate and becoming one with them.
The act of eating dirt is called geophagy. Usually, it’s kids that do it, or maybe adults by accident but not always.
Sometimes it’s an expression of a condition called pica where you’re tempted to eat non-food items, but it’s also been a cultural thing in various ancient cultures including among Native Americans, South Americans and Africans where it could be eaten for a number of reasons including wanting to improve your skin.
Finishing up this trio of terrible ideas, people in the Victorian era used to eat mummies. Real, actual Egyptian mummies.
The practice of eating mummies dates as far back as the 16th century. One belief was that a mummy ground into powder and ingested could cure internal bleeding. Bits of skull could cure headaches and so on.