Photography by Rami Elshakry

Two rare surviving recipes from ancient Egypt.

Ancient Egyptian culture progressed and developed over millennia, although much at its core remained constant. The ruler, the king, was a divine entity whose job was to maintain unity and peace and provide for his people. Succession was hereditary, as the divine legitimacy of the kings was a prerequisite for their rule. Ancient Egyptians valued life, above all, and their provisions for the dead (such as belongings and offerings in tombs) were meant to ensure a comfortable afterlife for those who had passed away.

Egyptologists believe that the staples in ancient Egypt were bread and beer, thanks to the large amount of textual evidence we have that states the exchange and trade of both these commodities. The diet was of course more varied than that, as confirmed by artistic evidence of offerings in tombs, physical finds of plants and animal bones, in addition to ceramics and many other forms of material culture.

Amongst the mostly common vegetables are spring onions and regular onions, chate melons, lettuce, and garlic. Wild herbs were also probably exploited for food, such as mallow, which has dark green leaves not unlike spinach. It was not until the New Kingdom that olive wood and twigs were found widely on archaeological sites, suggesting the cultivation of olives. Ancient Egyptians also consumed a nutritious tuber known as the tiger nut (hab al-‘aziz) and pulses including lentils and peas. Erroneously believed to have been part of ancient Egyptian diets, our beloved ful (fava beans) does not seem to have been eaten until the Graeco-Roman Period.

Animal proteins such as fish, sheep, goat, pig, and a variety of fowl were known from as early as predynastic times. Preparation methods included grilling, boiling, and frying, as well as salting and drying. Cheese and other milk products were also manufactured and consumed. We know little of cooked dishes, because these are often very hard to detect archaeologically, but stews of different sorts were certainly prepared.

We do not have many recipes, with a notable exception of a set of instructions on how to make a type of cake using tiger nuts from the tomb of Rekhmire at Thebes. Many medical recipes using foodstuffs do give an idea of certain types of cooked foods, such as a pancake-like date dish. However, a rich selection of baked goods, including sweet and savoury cakes and pastries is known from ancient Egypt.

Fruits such as figs, melons, nabq, and grapes were known throughout Egyptian history. Dates only appear to have become popular in the Middle Kingdom. Beverages included water, of course, in addition to the staple beer and the more luxurious wine, consumed by the elites and given to the masses only on special occasions. No tell-tale evidence for other beverages has been recovered, but carob juice, fruits juices, and warm drinks may very well have been on offer.




Source: Wall from the tomb of Rekhmire, Thebes

Date: 18th Dynasty (1550–1292 BCE), New Kingdom

Developed by Moustafa Elrefaey (following Pierre Tallet)

A scene from the tomb shows men making a cake-like dish made of tiger nuts, giving us the closest thing to a recipe for food from ancient Egypt.


  • 1 cup tiger nuts ground into a powder
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup ground dates
  • 2 tsp honey
  • oil (for frying)


Mix the tiger nut powder with water and form a soft dough. Divide the dough into small ball shapes. Mix the ground dates with the honey into a purée. To stuff each ball, create a small well with your thumb and fill the balls with the honey/date purée, close the gap, and shape it into triangles. Fry the triangles in oil, turning them frequently. Drain on a paper towel and serve cold.



Source: Ebers Papyrus, University of Leipzig

Date: 1550 BCE

Developed by Moustafa Elrefaey (following Pierre Tallet)

The Ebers Papyrus is a medical text from ancient Egypt containing concoctions and recipes to address various ailments and diseases. This ‘cake’ is meant as a cure for coughs.


  • 1 cup dried dates, pounded to a powder
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tsp honey


Mix date powder with water to make a loose paste. Pour the mix into a well-heated pan, stirring continuously. When it is half cooked, return to the bowl and mix with honey. Divide the paste into small ball-shaped cakes and serve.

This article was first published in print in RAWI's ISSUE 10, 2019