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The Pharaoh’s Kitchen

The Pharaoh’s Kitchen: Recipes from Ancient Egypt’s Enduring Food Traditions

Magda Mehdawy
Amr Hussein
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Pharaoh’s Kitchen
    Book Description:

    Judging from the evidence available from depictions of daily life on tombs and in historical texts, the ancient Egyptians were just as enthusiastic about good food and generous hospitality as are their descendants today. Magda Mehdawy and Amr Hussein have done extensive research on the cultivation, gathering, preparation, and presentation of food in ancient Egypt and have developed nearly a hundred recipes that will be perfectly recognizable to anyone familiar with modern Egyptian food. Beautifully illustrated with scenes from tomb reliefs, objects and artifacts in museum exhibits, and modern photographs, the recipes are accompanied by explanatory material that describes the ancient home and kitchen, cooking vessels and methods, table manners and etiquette, banquets, beverages, and ingredients. Traditional feasts and religious occasions with their own culinary traditions are described, including some that are still celebrated today. A glossary of ingredients and place names provides a useful guide to unfamiliar terms.

    eISBN: 978-1-61797-055-9
    Subjects: History, Middle East Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Abd El Halim Nour El Din

    While ancient Egyptian civilization is best noted for its architecture, its elaborate temples and tombs, and arts and sculpture, there are other aspects of ancient Egyptian society that have been far less studied. The culture of food and drink—which entails the methods of preparation and consumption, kitchen planning and tools, as well as references in literary and other texts—is among those more obscure facets of the pharaonic era.

    Food and drink are necessities of life and therefore an important area of research. The habits of the past are of the utmost relevance in the continuing habits of the...

  4. Preface
    (pp. 1-2)
  5. Chapter 1 Food in Ancient Egypt
    (pp. 3-23)

    Ancient Egyptian houses differed according to the social and economic class of their residents, ranging from small, basic structures for peasants and laborers to more elaborate homes for artists, priests, and men of state, villas for nobles, and palaces for kings.

    Ancient Egyptians lived in simple houses made of mudbrick, the structure of which varied according to social status. At al-Bersha, house models, called ʹstorehouses,ʹ were found that indicated three-story homes with separate outdoor facilities, like silos, to store grain, as well as places for weaving and making beer and furniture.¹ Houses of laborers in Tell al-Amarna built in the...

  6. Chapter 2 Bread
    (pp. 25-39)

    Bread was a staple of the ancient Egyptian diet, figuring in most depictions of offerings left in temples and tombs and on lists of desired foods carried by the deceased. It was also considered an essential item to be buried with the deceased for the afterlife.

    It is therefore not surprising that we can count up to fifteen kinds of bread in the Old Kingdom. By the time of the New Kingdom, this number had risen to almost forty kinds of bread and baked items that differed in shape from oval, to round, twisted and concave, as well as in...

  7. Chapter 3 Eggs and Dairy Products
    (pp. 41-47)

    Dairy products were vital ingredients not only in the ancient Egyptian kitchen, but also in homemade medicinal ointments to cure ailments such as eye disease, among others. Ancient Egyptians raised sheep and cows forirtet(milk), from which they made cheese, butter, and cream. To increase the animalsʹ milk production, the ancient Egyptians set proper feeding habits and forbade the use of female animals in agriculture. The peasants themselves were careful to ensure that milking occurred in an atmosphere of calmness and safety.42

    The ancient Egyptians used to makesert(cheese) out of sour milk. In the tomb dating to...

  8. Chapter 4 Meat
    (pp. 49-59)

    Livestock and hunted animals were an important source of nutrition in ancient Egypt. The most popular kind was beef, and people carefully fattened up herds of bulls and calves for slaughter. These were closely followed by lamb, goats and, at the very bottom of the list, deer and mountain goats.

    At first the ancients hunted game but it was not long before they began domesticating animals for different purposes of daily life. They made use of grazing lands that conveniently grew naturally in the swamps of the fertile Delta and the pastures that would appear after the Nile flood and...

  9. Chapter 5 Poultry
    (pp. 61-71)

    Poultry was one of the main sources of food for ancient Egyptians, varying, as is the case today, from domesticated fowl to wild birds. In cities there were poultry merchants who raised birds and fattened them up in order to sell them. Game, the most popular of which was wild goose, was also hunted. Geese were also domesticated. Duck was a common bird and, along with geese, made popular grilled or boiled dishes gracing the banquets of kings and priests and people of status in the community. Scenes have been found depicting the process of fattening domesticated birds.

    Other common...

  10. Chapter 6 Fish
    (pp. 73-85)

    The Nile was the backbone of ancient Egyptian life, providing water—both for drinking and agriculture—a means of transport, and communication. There was an abundance of fish thriving in its waters. Many different varieties were available and the flooding of the Nile meant large catches that had to be preserved for storage by salting and drying. In some parts of the country, there were fish that were considered sacred, and couldnʹt be caught or eaten, like Nile perch or seasnake. In other parts, it was taboo to eat fish on certain days of the year.44

    Many tomb scenes depict...

  11. Chapter 7 Vegetables
    (pp. 87-99)

    The fertile soil of the Nile provided a suitable climate for different crops such as grains and vegetables, many of which were represented in depictions of banquets and meals. Of the most commonly cultivated were onions which were also used in medicinal recipes as well as on special occasions. Known as a popular food for layman as well as priest, onions were commonly used to flavor dishes. Herodotus even mentioned onions and bread as the staple diet for pyramid builders. Apicius reports that onion was used as an ingredient in a sauce for grilled fish. Onions used to be worn...

  12. Chapter 8 Legumes
    (pp. 101-113)

    Legumes were, and still are, a popular food. Plutarch mentions them as being offered to the gods in ancient Egypt, although the priests used to avoid them for fear of flatulence. Types of legumes consumed were beans, peas, chickpeas, crushed wheat, lentils, lupine beans and fenugreek.

    Herodotus mentioned that lentils were eaten by pyramid builders in the Old Kingdom. They were also used to make bread and as feed for animals.

    Found in the tombs of the Fifth Dynasty wereeyorti(Egyptian beans), a name similar to the one used in Egypt now,herati. The ancient Egyptians cooked different kinds...

  13. Chapter 9 Fruits and Desserts
    (pp. 115-123)

    The ancient Egyptians realized early on the huge nutritional benefit of grapes, and they ate them fresh, dried as raisins, and pressed into wine. They also offered grapes to the gods on special occasions. While grapes were not mentioned except in depictions from the Third Dynasty, wine vessels and a grape press were found that dated to the First Dynasty.

    The sycomore was considered a sacred tree, and its fruit was frequently found inside tombs. Melon was also often planted. Dates were eaten either fresh, or dried, and a type of wine was made out of them, just like the...

  14. Chapter 10 Beverages
    (pp. 125-132)

    Common drinks were beer,bouza(fermented barley), wine, and milk (which was drunk fresh because of the hot weather). Aniseed, cinnamon, caraway (which dates back to the Fifth Dynasty) and fenugreek were either boiled or soaked then drunk. More festive beverages included soaked dates, carob, and doum fruit which were certainly used as syrupy sweeteners if not as drinks.

    Beer was more or less the national drink in ancient Egypt, and, along with bread and onions, was part of the staple diet. It also played a significant role in pharaonic culture and was served everywhere and drunk at all times...

  15. Appendices
    (pp. 133-144)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 145-150)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 151-154)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 155-158)
  19. Index
    (pp. 159-162)