Food and drink at
Deir el-Medina
Rock shrine
1. Berriedale-Johnson, Michelle: Food fit for Pharaohs : an ancient Egyptian cookbook
London : British Museum Press, 1999.
2. Nunn, John F.: Ancient Egyptian medicine
London : British Museum Press, 1996.
3. Shaw, Ian: British Museum dictionary of ancient Egypt
London : British Museum Press, 1995.
4. Strouhal, Evzen: Life of the ancient Egyptians
Liverpool : Liverpool University Press, 1997.
5. McDowell, A.G.: Village life in ancient Egypt : laundry lists and love songs
Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1999.
And finally, try this...
1 large courgette and 2 large leeks, finely sliced, put in a deep frying pan with a small amount of
olive oil. The pan needs to be covered with a lid. Cook the vegetables gently for 15 minutes. In a
bowl mix pieces of pitta bread with pine nuts and soak them in milk. Beat 3 eggs and add salt and
herbs. Once the vegetables are soft, fold the bread and nuts in. Transfer the mixture into a baking
tray and pour the seasoned eggs over. Cook the eggah in the oven at 200 oC for 30 minutes. Once
brown on the surface, remove it carefully from the tray and set it aside to cool. Cut into wedges.

All ingredients would have been available in Pharaonic Egypt:

  •      vegetables were grown on a large scale (Nunn, 1996, p. 13)

  •   bread was a staple of Egyptian diet and was made from emmer-wheat (Shaw, 1995, p. 101)

  •      olive oil was pressed from olives

  •     eggs came from domestic hens and were also collected from wildfowl (Shaw, 1995, p. 102)

  •        milk would have come from cows, goats, sheep or asses (Nunn,1996, p.14-16)

  •        pine oil and nuts were used in cooking.

Choose organically grown and produced ingredients to come as close as possible in the taste to the
meal that could have been served by Wia to her Ramose in ancient Deir el-Medina.
Bon appetite!
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Ostrakon Cairo 25504

Year 8 of Merenptah. On day 20 of the second month of the inundation season someone came to the
workmen to reward the crew.

He gave them as reward:

9000 loaves of bread
20 menet-jars of sesame oil
9000 [...] fish
20 sacks of salt and 600 blocks of natron
6 sacks of malt [...]
3 sacks of beans
[...] of kdy-beer

(Translation from McDowell, 1999, p. 225)

Ostrakon DeM 46 (in the French Institute in Cairo)

Mentions the delivery of the following articles on a particular day:

11 oxen
9 more received a few days later, which are said to be shared out
The next month there came
5 head of cattle: 4 for the crew and 1 for the three leaders, the chief workmen and the scribe
That day also
280 fish received

Ostrakon Stockholm MM 14126

(water delivery, probably for one day)

[House of] Nebamente                     ¼ sack
House of Amenakhte, son of Dgdy        ½ sack
House of Mose                              ½ sack
House of Pashedu, son of Harmose       ½ sack
House of Karo                              ½ sack
[House of Pashedu], son of Hehnakht    ¼ sack
[House of] …                                ¼ sack
[House of] … son of Sibe                  ½ sack

Ostrakon P2027 (Náprstek Museum, Prague)

"Said by Ta-khenty-shepse to her sister Iyt. In life, prosperity and health! Furthermore, to the
effect that: I will send this grain to you and you should have it ground for me and add emmer to it
and make it into bread for me, because I am quarrelling with Mery-Ma'at. "(I will) throw you out,"
so he says, when he quarrels with my mother enquiring after grain for bread. "Now, your mother
does not do anything for you," so he says to me, saying "now, you have siblings, but they do not look
after you!" So he says, arguing with me daily: "Now look, this is what you have done to me since I
have lived here, although everyone supplies beer and fish daily (to) their people. In short, if you
say something, you will go down to the Black Land (the cultivation)". It is good if you attend".

(Translation from McDowell, 1999, p. 42)

Ostrakon Berlin 11238

The Mayor of West Thebes Ramose informs the two chief workmen and their crews that he has
received a message from the Vizier Paser, saying

Please let the wages be delivered to the crew
of the necropolis, consisting of:
vegetables, fish, firewood, beer in small vessels,
small cattle and milk.
Let nothing of it be postponed, so that I would
be in arrears with their wages.
Be at it and pay heed!

Ostrakon Gardiner 59 (in Oxford)

Written by the workmen to a Vizier:

To let our Lord (the Vizier) know:
As regards the vegetables, oil, fish, our garments,
our ointment and our grain rations,
our Lord himself (Pharaoh) has provided
us with these means of subsistence.
Diet was varied, balanced and nutritious at Deir el-Medina. We have ample information, concerning
food and drink, surviving through depictions of food processing and consumption in the funerary art,
and in the form of actual food remains from funerary, religious and domestic finds.
The villagers received their food in the form of
regular rations as a salary (coinage did not exist
before the 26th dynasty in Egypt). The rations consisted mainly of grain, water, beer and oils, and
also of firewood, sandals, pottery, ointments, clothing and other items.

The vizier and the superintendent of the royal treasury were responsible for the disbursement of
grain to the families at Deir el-Medina. Careful records of the allocations were kept by the village
scribe. The "wages" were paid on the last working day of each month.
Monthly rations of
emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccum) were recorded in dry measure units: 1 khar
equalling 76.89 litres.
A foreman received 5 1/2 khar of wheat, an artisan 4 khar, but a scribe received only 2 3/4 khar.
Jac Janssen points out, that the scribe worked for both "sides" of the "crew", thus receiving the
payment twice, therefore earning the same as a foreman. Similarly a doctor was paid 1 khar of
wheat, but Jac Janssen believes this to be a supplement over the regular craftsman's wage, which
he received as well.
Emmer wheat was ground on an arrangement of stones known as a saddle quern. Stone-ground flour
contained fragments of stone and sand grains, which had a detrimental effect on the teeth, judging
from the skeletal remains from the village tombs. The flour was used to make bread and cakes.
Although yeast was known at the time, bread was generally unleavened. It was either baked in an
oven or in the embers of a fire. Numerous types of loaf were produced. Some of these were shaped
by hand, some were made in moulds. Bread moulds are common types of pottery found at Deir
el-Medina. The ancient Egyptian language had many different words for bread and cakes.

Barley (Hordeum vulgare) was used to make bread and beer, the two staples of the Egyptian diet.
A workman received 1 1/2 khar of barley, captains were allocated 2 khar of barley each month.
The basic ingredients for making beer were water and partly baked barley bread. Sieved together,
the resulting mixture was left to ferment. It could be sweetened with honey, which would have
accelerated the fermentation process. The final product could have been enhanced with various
flavourings, including fruits and herbs. Beer must have been a thick, soupy liquid, which, although not
always strongly alcoholic, was of nutritious value, for which it was also given to children.
Last updated on June 1st 2009
Ostrakon Cairo 25608

The rations distributed for the second month of summer /a:

The chief workman     2 sacks (barley)           5 ½ sacks (emmer)
The scribe               2                            5 ½
17 men, each makes   1 ½                         4                       that is 25 ½ + 68
2 young men, each amounts to ½                   1 ½                    that is 1 + 3
The guardian            1 ½                          3 ¼
The maidservants /b    1 ½                          1 ¼
The doorkeeper         ½                            1
The doctor /c           ¼                            1

Total /d                 32 ½                        84 ¾

(Translation from McDowell, 1999, p. 233)
a/ Deliveries for the Left side only
b/ This is the total for all slave women
c/ The doctor was also a regular member of the crew, so this is likely an extra pay he received
for healing
d/ In reality, the total is: 34 ¼ and 88 ½ . To be considered: Was this scribe bad at maths? Or
did he cheat on purpose and keep the rest of the grain for himself? (There are other instances
where the total written is lower than the real sum.)
Beans and lentils, garlic, lettuce, leek and cucumber were among the most regular supplies of

Various fruits, such as dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, melons, dom-palm nuts, more rarely
apples, olives and almonds, were available to the inhabitants of Deir el-Medina. Apart from
consumption of raw fruits, grapes were also used for making wine, a prestigious drink. After picking,
grapes were pressed, either in a cloth twisted between poles or by trampling with the feet. The
juice was poured into vats to ferment, and finally decanted into pottery vessels where it was left
to age. The shoulder of a jar was usually inscribed with details of the liquid inside, sometimes
including the variety, vineyard, date, production manager or the owner.

Other alcoholic drinks were also made from fermented dates, figs and pomegranates.
Dates and figs are an excellent source of energy. They were used in many desserts. The villagers
consumed fruit from a regular date palm, and also from sycamore trees, which gave smaller and
yellower dates. Dom palm (
Hyphaene thebaica) gives fruit looking like small pomegranate. The nut
inside contains sweet oil.
Water was delivered daily to Deir el-Medina by the water carriers. It was measured in khar like
grain. It was used for drinking, cooking and personal hygiene (laundry was done by "laundry men" in
the river.
Consumption: 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 khar a day per household (about 6 people) = 16-19 litres a day per
To read more about the Great pit click here.

What Neferhotep said, in the 3rd  winter month, day 22
(Note: this is the 19th Dynasty):

Water deficit for the Left side:
Prehotep   1 ½ sack
Nebamente   1 ½ sack
Khabekhent   1 sack
The watchman   ¼ sack
The servant woman Saroy  ½ sack

Total of the Left side    4 ¾ sack
Fish formed an important element of the villagers' diet. It was served as a substitute for the more
costly meat. Fish were abundant in the Nile. The most common types were  mullet and tilapia. At
Deir el-Medina fishermen were employed to provide some of the rations for the villagers. Each side
of the crew was getting about 250 kg of fish every month. Fish were salted for preservation, or
baked or roasted.

At Deir el-Medina meat was not eaten daily. It was considered a treat. It was usually provided in
the form of complete cattle from the temple stock-yards, or simply as individual portions. Oxen,
hares, gazelles and other wild animals would have been eaten and they were used as a source of fat.
Cows, goats, sheep and asses were kept in order to provide milk. Ducks and hens were kept for eggs
and meat.

Honey was obtained from both wild and domestic bees. It was used to transform bread into cakes
and to sweeten beer. Confectioners were employed at Deir el-Medina to prepare honey cakes for the
gang of workmen.

Salt, cinnamon, celeriac herb, juniper berries, cumin
Photography © Lenka Peacock