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  • When we say Italian food, we often

  • think of many popular and delicious dishes

  • like tagliatelle pasta with Bolognese sauce, chicken

  • Parmesan, and, of course, pizza.

  • We rarely think of the dishes that

  • were popular with the ancient Romans

  • like dolphin meatballs, parrot heads, and fermented fish guts.

  • The people of Rome routinely chowed down

  • on things most modern-day folk would shudder to even think

  • about putting in their mouth.

  • Today, we're going to take a look at the weirdest foods

  • from ancient Roman cuisine.

  • But before we get started, be sure to subscribe

  • to the Weird History channel.

  • And let us know in the comments below what

  • other culinary topics you would like to hear about.

  • OK, put your bib on.

  • We're about to sink our teeth into some creepy Roman food.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • For the people of the ancient Roman world,

  • meat was a bit of a delicacy, and it was almost exclusively

  • enjoyed by the rich.

  • Exotic meats like peacock were even more of a rarity.

  • The bird was typically served by cooks trying

  • to impress wealthy guests.

  • According to a collection of recipes and food

  • facts from the First Century called Apicius,

  • peacock was considered a first-ranked dish.

  • That meant it outranked foods like rabbit, lobster, chicken,

  • and pork in terms of its value as a luxury.

  • Roman elites also enjoyed the peacock's eggs,

  • which were also ranked highest among their counterparts.

  • Don't eat too much.

  • Save some womb for this.

  • Sterile sow's womb may not sound super appetizing to most,

  • but the ancient Romans really loved it.

  • To keep their pigs from having piglets,

  • Romans typically had the animals spayed.

  • This would ideally keep the animal's womb

  • pristine in both texture and taste.

  • Apicius details numerous recipes featuring this delicacy,

  • which is often accompanied by things like belly flesh

  • and udders.

  • There were numerous ways to prepare a sow's womb.

  • One was to cook it in pepper, celery seed, dry mint, laser

  • root, honey, vinegar, and broth.

  • Alternatively, a Roman chef might grill the sow's womb

  • after coating it in bran and then putting it into a brine.

  • From all this talk, I kind of do have a hankering for womb now.

  • I'll stop at the drive-thru later.

  • One of the ancient Roman empire's most famous gourmands

  • was Elagabalus, who was emperor during the Third Century

  • from 218 to 222 CE.

  • Contemporary writings about Elagabalus

  • said that he loved hosting fancy dinner parties.

  • Ancient gossip recorded in the Historia Augusta

  • claims he was a gluttonous maximus who

  • lived to serve people the greatest delicacies.

  • The ancient book even states that he served his own palace

  • attendants huge platters heaped up

  • with heads of parrots, pheasants, and peacocks.

  • Gosh, thanks, boss.

  • I guess free lunch is a perk.

  • The Roman affinity for exotic birds

  • also extended to the flamingo.

  • Both flamingo and parrot were prepared

  • by boiling the meat in dill, salt, and vinegar, and later

  • adding ingredients like leeks and coriander.

  • Apicius reports the birds would then

  • be infused with spices like pepper and cumin.

  • Finally, the meat would be sweetened with dates

  • and braised.

  • Some recipes added additional flavors

  • like mint, celery seeds, and shallots.

  • When it came to parrots, Romans didn't just eat them.

  • They also consider them conversation partners.

  • Pliny the Elder wrote that the parrot

  • was interesting due to its ability

  • to imitate the human voice and actually converse.

  • He noted that "a parrot will duly salute an emperor

  • and pronounce the words it has heard spoken."

  • He also observed that "the parrot

  • is rendered especially frolicsome

  • under the influence of wine."

  • There's something they don't teach you in school.

  • If you want to frolic with parrots, bring a good Chianti.

  • Archaeologists digging at Pompeii

  • uncovered the remains of a giraffe bone

  • that was stuck in the drain of an ancient restaurant.

  • Butchering marks found in the leg joint

  • indicated that the animal was used for food.

  • However, how it got to the restaurant in the first place

  • remains a bit of a mystery.

  • This is especially true given that it's the only giraffe

  • bone ever to be recovered from an Italian excavation.

  • And to think, if one plumber had just done their job,

  • this would have never been discovered.

  • Along with giraffes, the Romans apparently

  • enjoyed camel at least as an occasional delicacy.

  • An excavation of an ancient garbage dump in Rome

  • yielded camel bones, which bore marks

  • indicative of Elagabalus' strange predilection for eating

  • the animal's heels.

  • Why did he do that?

  • Well, according to one biography,

  • the emperor frequently ate camel heels

  • because he was told that one who ate them

  • was immune from the plague.

  • Using camel parts as medicinal remedies wasn't uncommon.

  • Writing in the 5th Century, the Roman physician Caelius

  • Aurelianus criticized the use of camel's brain

  • as a remedy for epilepsy, which was apparently

  • common among his predecessors.

  • Speaking of folk remedies for epilepsy,

  • weasels weren't regularly served at Roman feasts,

  • but they were believed to be handy to have

  • around for medicinal reasons.

  • Pliny the Elder took some time off from getting drunk

  • with parrots to write that as a treatment for epilepsy,

  • the brains of a weasel were considered very good.

  • For use as a remedy, the brain was dried up and then taken

  • in a drink.

  • Other helpful parts of the weasel

  • were its liver and uterus or testes,

  • which would be dried up and then taken with coriander.

  • Weasel flesh, when combined with salt,

  • was supposedly helpful for healing people

  • bitten by snakes.

  • However, by the Fifth Century, Caelius Aurelianus

  • challenged the idea that weasel bits were curative

  • for epilepsy, exactly as he had done for camels' brains.

  • He turned out to be right, much to the relief of camels

  • and weasels everywhere.

  • Brain was a common food.

  • And if you go to the restaurant Animal in Los Angeles,

  • it still is.

  • Brain was frequently mentioned in Apicius

  • with those of young sheep and cows especially featured

  • throughout the ancient cookbook.

  • One notable recipe includes lamb brains along with eggs, pepper,

  • and, interestingly, rose petals.

  • Brains were also commonly used to stuff sausages

  • and other meat dishes.

  • Apicius' recipe for Apician jelly includes either

  • the sweetbreads of calf or lamb with a variety

  • of other ingredients, including but not limited

  • to honey, raisins, nuts, cheese, and mint.

  • Once the ingredients were combined,

  • they were to be covered and chilled, which in those days

  • typically meant buried in the snow.

  • The agent Romans didn't use ketchup,

  • but they loved a good condiment.

  • Their favorite was a tasty concoction

  • known as garum or liquamen.

  • Sold in large and small quantities alike,

  • garum was prepared from the intestines of fish

  • and various parts which would otherwise

  • be thrown away, kind of like a Roman version of the McRib.

  • The ingredients would be mixed with honey, vinegar,

  • and other additives.

  • Garum is even known to have come in kosher varieties.

  • According to Pliny the Drunk Parrot Guy,

  • garum was extremely expensive, not like the McRib.

  • As he tells it, "A garum of mackerel from the fisheries

  • of Carthage is the most highly prized.

  • Hardly any other liquid commands such prices, apart

  • from perfume."

  • Given that garum was cost prohibitive,

  • lower class Romans typically opted

  • to substitute something called allec.

  • Originally made from anchovies, allec

  • was basically the remnants of a good garum

  • or was made out of smaller, cheaper fish.

  • [MUSIC PLAYING]

  • Romans loved seafood.

  • They ate all varieties of fish and weren't above dining

  • on a good dolphin if the mood struck.

  • Dolphin, although not a fish, was also a popular ingredient

  • in salt fish balls, which were commonly served in wine sauce.

  • The recipe typically called for a mixture of fish flesh

  • with spices like parsley, pepper, and mint.

  • Once the ingredients were blended and shaped into balls,

  • they would be poached in wine, broth, and oil.

  • For what it's worth, dolphin was prohibited for use as food

  • by legislation.

  • However, wealthy citizens found ways around those laws.

  • For example, one Rutilius Rufus was

  • said to avoid those laws by buying from fishermen

  • who used to be his slaves.

  • Oh, yeah.

  • Let's give the old slave boss a deal.

  • Jelly fish weren't common on Roman menus.

  • But when they did turn up, it was almost always

  • part of a salad.

  • Sea urchin was slightly more common.

  • In fact, the same Pompeii excavation

  • that dug up that freak giraffe bone also

  • found the remains of a sea urchin.

  • Apicius advocated using sea urchins

  • on top of a mega casserole that included ingredients

  • from brains to cheese.

  • They could be boiled or eaten raw.

  • Popular varieties included sea urchin

  • stuffed with egg and honey or simply dusted

  • with pepper and salt.

  • In modern times, we typically turn

  • to cats as the animals that will clean up a mouse problem.

  • But in ancient Rome, weasels were the animals

  • that most households kept to keep rodents at bay.

  • Door mice, however, which were much larger

  • than traditional mice, were considered ingredients

  • for culinary practice.

  • Like dolphins, door mice were at least for a time

  • protected by legislation.

  • It didn't make much of a difference though.

  • Romans continued to hunt these adorable and apparently tasty

  • critters anyway.

  • In fact, in order to make sure the supply of yummy,

  • yummy door mice didn't run out, Romans

  • took to raising them at home.

  • Hand-raised door mice were fattened up

  • and kept in jars stuffed with acorns,

  • beach nuts, or chestnuts.

  • Once the mice put on enough weight,

  • Apicius recommended stuffing the chubby mice

  • with pork pounded with pepper, nuts, silphium, and broth.

  • Blood pudding was kind of the pasta with butter of its era.

  • The ingredients were readily available,

  • and the dish was considered very easy to cook.

  • Sacrificed animals and those used in the arena

  • were repositories of lifeblood, which

  • was an important ingredient in such puddings

  • as well as in blood sausage.

  • Blood pudding and sausage could be purchased at the market,

  • but the vendors who sold them were typically

  • considered low on the social ladder,

  • kind of like an ancient Roman Jackius in the Boxius.

  • Apicius suggests mixing blood with egg yolks, nuts,

  • and spices, then putting the resulting

  • sauce into an intestine and cooking that mixture

  • to perfection.

  • Roman sausages, in contrast to black sausages associated

  • with the British, used onion to absorb the liquid rather than

  • oats or other grains.

  • While the rich drank fancy wine, the poor

  • would enjoy a more pedestrian drink.

  • Without access to the best vino, many Romans

  • drank posca, which was water mixed with vinegar

  • and some variety of seasoning.

  • Posca might include lemon juice, eggs, certain types of fruits,

  • and sometimes wine.

  • Easy to make, posca was known as the drink

  • of Roman soldiers, which is a great marketing slogan.

  • It was known to energize and refresh the consumer and even

  • disinfected non-potable water.

  • Less appealing than posca was lora, a wine typically consumed

  • by slaves.