Ancient Egypt for Kids
Ancient Egypt was located along both sides of the Nile River. The Nile emptied into the Mediterranean Sea. They was another sea to the east. But mostly, ancient Egypt was surrounded by desert. Sand worked its way into everything in ancient Egypt, including food. That affected their table manners.
The ancient Egyptians did not use silverware. If they had used silverware, bits of sand would have stuck to a spoon or a fork or a knife. They ate a lot of sand anyway in spite of their best efforts not to do so. Sand got into them grain they used to make bread. Sand was everywhere!
Instead of using silverware, the ancient Egyptians ate with their fingers. Each person at the table had a water bowl. They ancient Egyptians dipped their fingers in their water bowl frequently throughout the meal.
In many homes, water was boiled before it was poured into a water bowl to be used at the table. The Egyptians had learned that although the Nile River offered fresh water, the water was full of disease. It was not safe to drink water directly from the Nile without boiling it first. It was not safe to dip your fingers in the water and then put your fingers in your mouth. Too many people had become quite ill from doing exactly that. Not everyone boiled the water first, and not everyone got ill from drinking water directly from the Nile. But most people were careful.
In poor homes, people sat around a reed mat. The mother would set a bowl of something good to eat, like a fish or a vegetable dish, in the middle of the table. Everyone around the mat took turns taking food from the bowl. You could use bread to help scoop food, or you just used your fingers. When everyone was done eating out that bowl, the bowl was taken away and another bowl was placed in the center of the mat. This bowl offered another food item. You might be served one bowl or many bowls depending upon how rich you were. These were called courses. Between courses, the ancient Egyptians did not dip their fingers into water; they poured water over their hands to remove traces of sand and food from the last course. Ancient Egyptians did not use napkins. They air dried their hands by shaking their hands in the air between courses.
In homes of the rich, people might sit at a table rather than a mat. But the use of a single bowl in the center of the table was quite common. Egyptians liked to eat their food in courses.