In my universe, the Horn of Africa is the hub of magical and technological advancement before its downfall in approximately 1 BC.

What would ancient merchant sailors eat on a third rate ship (think an Indiaman) while in transit from the Horn of Africa to the other side of Saudi Arabia, given that the majority of them are from Ethiopia?

Are there traditional foods that would "make it" on a ship?

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    $\begingroup$ This appears to be a question about Earth's real history, rather than building something fictional. I would suggest rewording slightly and asking on the History SE. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 3 '16 at 4:47
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre So magical advancement on the Horn of Africa is real world history? Must have missed that in school.... $\endgroup$ – kingledion Oct 3 '16 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ @kingledion The fact that the Horn of Africa had or has magic is irrelevant to the question that was asked: What food did sailors eat? Unless, of course, you're suggesting the answer is "magic beans," in which case this becomes opinion-based. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 3 '16 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty much the same as the the food people used to eat on ships. Transits of ships could take from weeks to months so meals would have to all be carried on board to be cooked by a cook. I suggest reading up on your history a bit. $\endgroup$ – Skye Oct 3 '16 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Getting real world information relevant to fantasy world-building is the purpose of this site. The question is not: 'What did Somali sailors eat in 1AD" The question is "If Ethiopians were a major seafaring civilization in 1 AD, what foods would be added to seafarers diet in the course of exploring". Just because you don't understand the question well enough to answer it doesn't mean you have to close the question. There is absolutely no reason to close questions that are specific and clearly written, even if they are marginally off-topic. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Oct 3 '16 at 13:35

I would to look at the traditional foods of either South India or Ethiopia from plants that were domesticated 2000 years ago or more. Then pick ones that are cheap and can dry out or travel well.

South India is relevant because it was the first place with the tropical wet-dry climate in the world to develop big cities. The horn of Africa was tropical wet-dry back in 1 AD (now its just dry-dry because it used to have two monsoons, now it just has one) and could have imported agricultural knowledge from South India. Ethiopia is cooler and wetter than the rest of the Horn because it is so high in altitude...many of the foods from Ethiopia wouldn't be grown near the coast and so wouldn't be ideal for seafarers.

From South India, there was lots of rice and jowar roti (a flat bread made from sorghum) for pure carbs; idli (cakes made from rice and black lentils) and sambar (stew made with pigeon peas). Also coconuts would last well on the ship and could be used as a base for curries. Spices available that far back included pepper, cinnamon, turmeric and cardamon. Garlic, ginger and onions were also available and might keep reasonably well at sea. Tamarind would be important to combating scurvy; it is an ingredient in sambar and could be added to any curry. Plantains were a big part of the diet but wouldn't last well at sea.

The big staple of Ethiopian cuisine is injera, a flatbread made out of teff, a grain native to the Ethiopian plateau. Again, teff was never really grown off the plateau, so not as likely to be used by sailors, but if they are Ethiopian they might prefer it as 'home-cooking'. Qinch'e is a porridge of cracked wheat. If chickens were around, they could make wat, a stew with chickens and eggs. Dried goat, sheep or camel meat might also be used in wat, or in tibs. Just keep in mind, there were no hot chili peppers in this part of the world at this time, so if you wanted heat you had to get it with exotic ingredients like tons of black pepper, white pepper or grains of paradise from West Africa.

Last but not least, Ethiopia's most important homegrown product is coffee. I expect that would be a major trade good, and probably a big part of the sailor's diet plan. Those Europeans can keep their grog, Ethiopia has hyperactive sailors, not drunken sailors.

  • $\begingroup$ "Ethiopia's most important homegrown product is coffee. I expect that would be a major trade good" - Not in the stated time period (prior to 1 BC). Drinking coffee apparently started around 1500 AD, so you're jumping the gun by at least a couple of millenia. $\endgroup$ – WhatRoughBeast Feb 12 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ Replace "Coffee" by Khat. Although is needed to be consumed fresh, so more like something you pick on the port than something you consume everyday on the ship. $\endgroup$ – Stormbolter Feb 12 at 17:37

Ideally to preserve certain foods, such as meat and fish, they were salted and dried. The ship sailors would first eat those foods that will spoil quickly. Also they will have live chicken and meat giving animals which will be butchered to make curries and they will eat.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Worldbuilding, Sri! If you have a moment, please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. You may also find Worldbuilding Meta and The Sandbox useful. Here is a meta post on the culture and style of Worldbuilding.SE, just to help you understand our scope and methods, and how we do things here. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Gryphon Feb 12 at 16:26

I want to start listing a set of assumptions that have to be made:

  • Ships of the time weren't meant for long trips, and weren't able to sail into the deep seas. Ships would follow the coasts and stop at night, at a port if possible.
  • The most common ship of the time was the Galley: it was oar powered and usually had between 10 to 15 pairs of rows of oars. It also could be supplemented with square sails. If you want to strech a bit your history, the Bedens are a bit more modern (but still pre age of sail), equipped with lateen rigs and required less sailors to operate, although they were definitely smaller than Galleys.
  • Fresh Vegetables and fruits were a thing for rich people and farmers.
  • The main crops in the horn where, in order, Barley, Wheat and Teff. Of these three, only Teff is indigenous to the horn. The others can be found anywhere.
  • Salting was the most common preserve, and was used for meat, fish and vegetables.

With these assumptions, I think a sailing merchant ship of the time would always carry:

  • Barley: it was easy to store, could be made into porridge without milling it, and also was used to keep the water from spoiling by making weak ale from the bread or the grains.
  • Salted goods: Sailors usually ate more proteins than farmers. A bit of salted protein would be added to the porridge for flavour, protein and salt. Pickled vegetables could also be added to the porridge for flavouring.

Note I mention a lot the word porridge: That's because is going to be the staple food of your sailors. These ships seldom had a dedicated cook (they crews weren't that big) so one of the sailors would just put a cauldron with water, grains and meat to heat; a simple dish but effective.

Optionally, you could also load a bit of cheese, barley bread and of course, supplement the meals with freshly caught fish. If they are sailing from one of their home ports, they will probably will also carry some teff bread, or teff grains (yes, you guessed right, for the porridge).

In the end, the most important thing to remember is that ships of that period tend to sleep at ports. That means cheap or underpaid sailors will eat porridge. The others will probably eat at taverns where, while the ingredients will be largely the same, they will be at least prepared by someone who -hopefully- can cook, and they won't be as salty.

I won't consider this as "food" but khat consumption has been and still is very common in the horn. It's a plant that acts like a stimulant when chewed on (like coca leaves). Khat ideally has to be consumed fresh but I won't be the patron who denies khat to his sailors (not if I don't want an early water grave).

As for the patron of the ship, I would carry a small quantity of flour (of any of the cereals) to make unleavened bread (think a taco tortilla) called Qitta, as well as perhaps fresh vegetables that would last until the next port for making a meat and vegetable stew (there are many recipes, but in the end consist of putting everything on a pot and cooking it). Of course he can afford to have nice foods because he will probably have an attendant for doing these kind of chores (and no, the attendant will not cook for the sailors, there are classes, you know).


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