Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

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Eat like an Egyptian

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Yes, you, too, drink like an Egyptian whenever you have a beer, or, more correctly, an ale, since the preservatives needed for true beer weren’t introduced until the Middle Ages. In fact, we have the ancient Egyptians to thank for the fundamentals of modern brewing, likewise for the basics used in making raised, or leavened, bread.

Of course, not everyone in the 3,000-year period covered by the exhibit ate the same things. Just like today, typical foods came and went, due to population shifts from immigration and the expansion of kingdoms (reference today George W. Bush or Macdonald’s), popular trends, plus the availability of products impacted by everything from changing weather to changing trade partners.

"A lot of what they ate is basically what we eat now. It’s really not that unusual," says Royal BC Museum public program assistant Tina Lowery. "That was part of the idea behind the marketplace – to show that daily life for ancient Egyptians wasn’t really that much different than life is for people now, for contemporary Egyptians and even for us. I mean, who hasn’t had hummus nowadays?"

Other than beef, which the upper class got to eat more often, and variety – for instance, nobles and the like enjoyed some 40 kinds of bread – diet was pretty much free from class distinctions. Furniture was sparse, and the lower classes ate from plates of clay, not silver and gold, but even the humblest homes had ample kitchens and storage areas for food. For eating was something of an art, and a pretty elevated one at that.

"The level of sophistication was surprising. It wasn’t just simple food – it was elaborate meals and very Egyptian Martha Stewart," Lowery says. "It was all about presentation and making sure it looked good as well as tasted good. I think they liked to eat.

"In the books, you see a lot of tomb paintings and illustrations of feasts and parties, where there is food and wine and beer — you know they had a good time."

Sound familiar?

Strangely sweet contradictions

Since access to bathing wasn’t the greatest, ancient Egyptians liked to cover themselves in scents. These were usually made up into honey-based pomades applied all over the skin. On some level it sounds lovely, but I’m also thinking here of the time factor compounding honey and dust, and honey and flies, not to mention honey and your favourite shirt or dress…