16 Ancient Roman Foods That Probably Tasted As Weird As They Sound

ancient roman foods

Like anything else, there are food trends that come and go with the passing of time. There are classic dishes and types of foods that will always stick around, but generally, things change throughout the years. What we love to eat right now (avocado toast and sugary Frappuccinos, for example) might not be so popular a decade or two from now, as hard as that is to believe. Think about it: In the 1960s, which wasn’t that long ago, people were eating Jell-O mixed with literally anything as dessert. In the 1950s, mayonnaise cake was a thing! That sounds horrible, but people loved that stuff back then.

So if people were eating things that were weird during a time period that wasn’t even that long ago, just imagine what they were eating back in ancient times, when food sources were totally different and their culture was something that’s hard to even imagine, considering where we are now.

The ancient Roman era, for example, meant a completely different way of life. It may have been Italy, but they certainly weren’t chowing down on the Italian food we know and love today. Some aspects of their diet have remained — they basically followed the Mediterranean diet before it was called that — but a lot of it was so strange and exotic that just thinking about eating it is going to make you feel nauseous.

Just take a look at some of the weird foods that were served during the ancient Roman era:

1. Dormice were considered a delicacy, and yes, they’re exactly what they sound like.

Wealthy, prominent Italians ate dormice a lot — and it was considered something special.

According to Atlas Obscura, these weren’t the mice we see running around outside, but bigger and more substantive mice that were edible.

To get them ready for eating, ancient Romans would put them in an enclosed jar as their temporary home while feeding them a ton of food to get them fat and ready to be eaten. Dormice were a food for the upper-class, so farmers would sometimes raise them just so they could sell them. Um… doesn’t sound appetizing at all.

2. Peacock was another food the rich ate a lot.

Meat was expensive in ancient Roman times and not quite as common as it is nowadays.

So when the Romans did look for meat, they often found it in birds (even exotic ones). Peacock was a popular option among the wealthy, often made into meatballs.

No thanks! We like these birds as they are.

3. Flamingo tongue was considered a luxury food as well.

The Romans didn’t stop at peacock… sadly.

They also enjoyed flamingo — specifically, flamingo tongue. Flamingos were common in Africa, and many also lived in Italy. According to Crystal King, flamingos have a wide, flat, serrated tongue containing erectile tissue that makes it edible.

Doesn’t sound super appetizing to us, but hey, we’re not living in Ancient Rome.

4. Garum was a staple fish sauce.

Garum was a popular fermented fish sauce made of fish guts and other small fish that were salted and left in the sun to dry.

The resulting gunk from them was filtered out to create the sauce. According to History Hit, garum was “the best quality paste” out there… although it certainly doesn’t sound like it.

5. Sea urchin was just one option from the sea.

The ancient Romans ate a lot of seafood, but not quite the stuff we’re used to eating today.

In an archaeological dig, historians found that the ancient Romans appeared to love dining on sea urchins. It might sound weird now, but they were much loved during that time, and probably eaten by lower and upper classes alike.

6. Giraffe meat was considered an exotic food.

Historians discovered giraffe bones at the site of an archaeological dig in Pompeii, which was a Roman city, among the remains of a kitchen.

According to LiveScience, this has led them to believe that some ancient Romans were almost definitely eating giraffe meat, even though it was considered exotic at the time.

7. Jellyfish was often served omelette-style.

According to the book The Totally Gross History of Ancient Rome, jellyfish was a popular food for the ancient Romans.

They typically ate it as a salad, but some actually enjoyed eating it as an omelette. This does not sound appealing in any way! How do you even chew a jellyfish?!

8. Lark Tongue Pie was a popular dish that probably tasted as strange as it sounds.

Marcus Gavius Apicius was a figure in Ancient Rome, and he loved to cook so much that a cookbook was named after him.

According to NPR, his favorite dish was something called Lark Tongue Pie, which is made of the tongue of a small brown and white lark bird. Apicius helped spread this recipe around, for some reason that we don’t quite understand.

9. Parrot was served like flamingo was.

The Apicius cookbook also noted that flamingo dressed in a spiced date sauce was a popular option, and that “parrot is served the same way.”

Between the flamingo tongue, peacock, and parrot, they clearly didn’t discriminate when it came to the birds they saw as food. But hey, at least they weren’t picky eaters!

10. Sow’s womb was also popular and is, yes, the womb of an animal.

The Apicius cookbook delivered yet another strange option: sow’s womb, or a pig’s womb.

They spayed their pigs before slaughtering them, then prepared the womb a few different ways: with pepper, with vinegar, or just with broth. None of them sound that appetizing, and this is one we definitely wouldn’t want to chow down on.

11. Milk-fed snails were used as food. And as pets!

Eating snails may not be odd to everyone, but to some of us, it’s just plain strange.

The ancient Romans kept their snails in special enclosures, similar to the ones they kept dormice in, to fatten them up on a diet of wine and flour, or milk. They were then eaten when they were big enough — or sometimes just kept as pets.

12. Posca was a very popular drink.

In terms of drinks, it’s probably not shocking to hear that the Romans loved their wine. Not shocking at all.

It was just, uh, different from what we drink today. Posca was a red wine vinegar mix popular with soldiers, since they believed that the vinegar helped kill bacteria while keeping them healthy.

13. Ostrich was another bird that was considered an exotic food.

Ostrich meat was also considered an exotic food during ancient Roman times.

One recipe for boiled ostrich meat states, “Pepper, mint, roasted cumin, celery seed, long or round dates, honey, vinegar, passum (raisin wine), liquamen (fish sauce) and a little oil. Put in a pan and bring to the boil. Thicken it with starch and in this state pour over the pieces of ostrich on a serving dish and sprinkle with pepper…”

Yum?

14. Dolphin meatballs may have been a thing.

The book Tastes Like Chicken: A History of America’s Favorite Bird states that the ancient Romans likely loved to eat dolphin meatballs, which, quite frankly, sounds horrifying for many different reasons.

It was thought to be popular from the Apicius cookbook, of course. And according to National Geographic, these may have been served with garum — a sauce made of fermented fish guts.

15. Pigeon was a common option.

The ancient Romans ate a lot of small birds (clearly), including pigeons.

This is probably because beef was not common, and, well, pigeons were. Plus, according to PCRC, “In the Greco-Roman classical world Aphrodite (Venus) was regarded primarily as the goddess of love to whom pigeon offerings were made in exchange for blessings and favors in such matters.” Still… no thanks.

16. Snails and shellfish were a typical dessert.

Again, snails might not be weird to you, and shellfish probably isn’t either. But eating them for dessert?

That’s considerably more odd. According to Ancient History Encyclopedia, their dessert “could include nuts, fruit, or even snails and more shellfish.” Interesting. But hey, savory dessert is a thing, so don’t knock it till you try it?

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