Sumerians were the first culture to quit hunting and gathering food and begin cultivation. Like many other inventions that Sumerian culture gave to the world, they also contributed in farming and food. Sumerian food consisted mainly of barley.
The raw material of most of Sumerian food was barley, barley cakes and barley paste were accompaniments of all major meals. Wheat and millet were other raw materials used in Sumerian food. Farming yielded vegetables and fruits, chickpeas, lentils, beans, onion, garlic, leeks, cucumbers, cress, mustard and fresh green lettuce was all part of the early Sumerian food. Sumerians were the first culture to settle down and leave the earlier nomad lifestyle. With settlement they began domesticating animals for food and labor. Goat’s milk and meat, eggs, pig; wild fowl, deer and venison were an integral part of the Sumerian’s food as well.
Everyday Sumerian food was probably barley cakes with onions and beans washed down with barley ale. Fish that swarmed in the rivers of Mesopotamia were a major food source too. Over fifty different types of fish are mentioned in the early texts dating before 2300 BC and the fried fish vendors had a thriving trade in the city of Ur. Food stalls also sold onions, cucumbers, freshly grilled goat, mutton and pork. Meat was more popular and common in big cities as compared to sparsely populated towns as they would spoil in the heat. Cattle were only slaughtered for consumption when they were nearly at the end of their working lives.
Information about Sumerian food can be gathered from archaeology and written records on cuneiform tablets. These sources also indicated the importance of barley and wheat cakes as the staple diet together with grain and legume soups, onion, leeks, garlic and melon. Besides farmed vegetables, Sumerian food also included fruits. These were apples, fig and grapes. Several culinary herbs and honey and cheese, butter and vegetable oil have also been mentioned in later Sumerian food records. Sumerians drank beer often and sometimes wine too. Preservation of foodstuff had also been evolved with meats being salted and fruits conserved in honey. Various other fruits including apples were dried to preserve them and a fermented cause is also mentioned in the Akkadian texts.
Rice and corn was unknown in ancient Mesopotamia, thus barley and its flour was the staple Sumerian food. Their bread was coarse, flat and unleavened, though an expensive version was made out of finer flour. Pieces of this bread were found in the tomb of Queen Puabi of Ur, left there for sustenance in afterlife. Breads were enhanced with butter, milk and cheese, sesame seeds and even fruits and their juices. Later records show truffles being made as well. With the advent of irrigation canals lush fruit and vegetable farms with fruits like mulberries, pears, plum, cherries and pomegranates were found in abundance. The most important food crop in southern Mesopotamia was the date palm. Goats, cows and ewe were domesticated for milk; geese and ducks for eggs and some 50 varieties of fish were a staple Sumerian food. Meats were cooked by roasting, boiling, barbecuing or broiling and preserved by drying, smoking or salting.