30 Historical Dishes Concocted Out of Sheer Necessity

30 Historical Dishes Concocted Out of Sheer Necessity

All throughout human history, food has always been so much more than just mere sustenance - it's a story of survival and the human spirit. Across various eras and different cultures, people have faced the challenge of feeding large populations, dealing with poverty, and scarcity. So today, we're going to explore 30 historical dishes that were created out of sheer necessity, showcasing mankind's past struggles and triumphs alike.

1. Polenta, Italy

Originally a peasant food, polenta, made from ground cornmeal, was a cheap and nutritious staple that sustained the poor in Northern Italy. Its simplicity and versatility allowed it to be cooked in various ways, providing sustenance for many.

Roberto-Sorin-Zgl-Jyqtck4-UnsplashPhoto by Roberto Sorin on Unsplash

2. Congee, China

Congee, a rice porridge, has been a vital part of Chinese cuisine for centuries, especially for the less affluent. It requires minimal rice and can be easily stretched to feed many by adding water, making it a practical choice for feeding large families.

Rice Porridge With Corn By Kwankwan In Taipeikwankwan from Taipei on Wikimedia Commons

3. Pottage, Medieval Europe

In medieval times, pottage, a thick stew made from vegetables, grains, and sometimes a small amount of meat, was a common meal for the poor. It was economical, as it could be continuously cooked over a fire, with ingredients added as available.

1024Px-Vegetable SoupProjectManhattan on Wikimedia Commons

4. Succotash, Native America

Succotash, a dish made from corn and beans, was a Native American invention. This combination provided a balanced diet and was essential for tribes, especially during harsh winters or periods of scarcity.

Succotash Sjtaylor 28Aug2020Ceuthophilus on Wikimedia Commons


5. Ratatouille, France

Ratatouille, a French dish from Provence, originated as a way for farmers to cook up a cheap meal using leftover vegetables. This stewed vegetable dish became a staple for feeding families with minimal resources.

Amirali-Mirhashemian-R02Kgl5Ti3Y-Unsplash (1)Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

6. Colcannon, Ireland

In Ireland, colcannon, a mixture of mashed potatoes and cabbage or kale, was a filling, inexpensive food source. It became particularly important during the Great Famine as a means to stretch limited food supplies.

1024px-colcannon5532418361.jpgVegaTeam on Wikimedia Commons

7. Hoppin' John, Southern United States

Hoppin' John, a dish of black-eyed peas and rice, is a Southern U.S. staple. Originating from African slaves, it was a nutritious, low-cost meal that could feed a large number of people.

1702589863177.pngSrjenkins on Wikimedia Commons

8. Dal, India

Dal, a type of lentil stew, has been a staple in Indian cuisine, particularly for the lower economic classes. It's a high-protein meal that's affordable and can be made in large quantities.

Vd-Photography-Iej3Ghgo3Jy-Unsplash (1)Photo by VD Photography on Unsplash

9. Cassava Bread, Caribbean

In the Caribbean, cassava bread was a food of necessity. Made from the cassava root, it provided a gluten-free, sustainable carbohydrate source for the impoverished and during times of food scarcity.

Nadya-Spetnitskaya-Toyiqxf9-Ys-UnsplashPhoto by Nadya Spetnitskaya on Unsplash

10. Borscht, Eastern Europe

Borscht, a beet soup from Eastern Europe, was a cost-effective way to feed families. Beets were cheap and plentiful, and the soup could be stretched to feed many.

Natalia-Gusakova-Fwnv7Fvjq8Y-Unsplash (1)Photo by Natalia Gusakova on Unsplash


11. Grits, Native American and Southern U.S.

Grits, made from ground corn, have been a staple in both Native American and Southern U.S. diets. This inexpensive, versatile dish could feed large groups and was essential during times of economic hardship.

Kseniya-Nekrasova-Eb6Uutj3Sgm-UnsplashPhoto by Kseniya Nekrasova on Unsplash

12. Ful Medames, Egypt

Ful medames, a stew of cooked fava beans, has been a staple in Egypt since ancient times. It's a protein-rich meal that's economical and has traditionally fed large populations, especially the poor.

Ful MedamesZachbe at en.wikipedia on Wikimedia Commons

13. Lentil Soup, Middle East

Lentil soup, common across the Middle East, was a vital food for the poor. Lentils are a cheap source of protein and the soup can be bulked up with whatever vegetables are on hand.

Hermes-Rivera-E8Xpirll56E-UnsplashPhoto by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

14. Bread and Dripping, United Kingdom

During and after the World Wars, bread and dripping was a common food for the poor in the UK. It consisted of bread spread with the fat dripped from cooked meat, utilizing leftovers to create a filling meal.

Stephanie-Harvey-I5Rltrgkoly-UnsplashPhoto by Stephanie Harvey on Unsplash

15. Pease Porridge, Medieval Europe

Pease porridge, made from dried peas, was a common food in medieval Europe. This simple, nutritious dish was an affordable way for the poor to sustain themselves, especially during long winters.

1024Px-Groch Ze Słoniną - Gotowe DanieGżdacz on Wikimedia Commons

16. Hardtack, Worldwide

Hardtack, a simple biscuit made from flour, water, and sometimes salt, was a staple for sailors and soldiers. It was incredibly durable and provided a basic sustenance during long voyages or military campaigns.

Su-1 Hardtack 9048Ashley Pomeroy on Wikimedia Commons


17. Bean Soup, Global

Bean soup, a common dish in many cultures, was a cost-effective way to provide a nutritious meal. Beans are a cheap source of protein and can be easily bulked up with vegetables and grains.

Christina-Rumpf-Qjh-Bchbhis-UnsplashPhoto by Christina Rumpf on Unsplash

18. Samp, Native America

Samp, a dish made from coarsely ground corn, was a Native American invention. It was a filling, nutritious food that could be made in large quantities to feed tribes, especially during times of scarcity.

1024Px-Traditional SampStoutseun on Wikimedia Commons

19. Fish and Chips, United Kingdom

Originally, fish and chips was a meal for the working classes in England. Cheap, filling, and high in calories, it became a staple food for those who needed a lot of energy but had little money.

Andy-Wang-Pf-Bzqpcami-UnsplashPhoto by Andy Wang on Unsplash

20. Mujaddara, Middle East

Mujaddara, a dish of lentils and rice topped with caramelized onions, is a Middle Eastern staple. Its ingredients are affordable and it's a filling meal that has historically fed large families on a tight budget.

1702590882676.pngTamorlan on Wikimedia Commons

21. Goulash, Hungary

Goulash, a Hungarian stew, started as a simple meal for herdsmen. Made from meat, vegetables, and paprika, it was an economical way to feed large groups.

Hungarian Goulash Recipe (1)Valeva1010 on Wikimedia Commons

22. Pasta e Fagioli, Italy

Pasta e Fagioli, meaning "pasta and beans," is a traditional Italian dish. It was a practical choice for feeding large families affordably, combining inexpensive pasta with protein-rich beans.

Pasta E Fagioli - Minestravaltercirillo on Wikimedia Commons


23. Atole, Mexico

Atole, a traditional Mexican drink made from masa (corn dough), water, and sometimes chocolate or fruit, was a common sustenance for the poor. It provided essential nutrients and was inexpensive to produce.

Atole De Puscua, Mazatlán, 8 De Marzo De 2023 03El Nuevo Doge, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

24. Potato Soup, Europe

Potato soup, prevalent across Europe, especially in Ireland and Germany, became a staple for the poor due to the inexpensive and filling nature of potatoes.

Julia-Kicova-18Yz7Zuqg4Q-UnsplashPhoto by Julia Kicova on Unsplash

25. Bubble and Squeak, United Kingdom

Bubble and squeak, a British dish, was made from the leftover vegetables and potatoes from a roast dinner. It was a way to use up leftovers and provide an additional, cost-effective meal.

Julia-Kicova-18Yz7Zuqg4Q-UnsplashPhoto by Julia Kicova on Unsplash

26. Okroshka, Russia

Okroshka, a cold soup from Russia, was traditionally made with whatever fresh vegetables were available. It was a refreshing and economical meal, especially in the hot summer months.

Okroshka, Russian Okroshka, Rostov-On-Don, RussiaVyacheslav Argenberg on Wikimedia Commons

27. Chapati, India

Chapati, a flatbread from the Indian subcontinent, was a staple for the poor. It requires only flour and water to make and is often served with a simple vegetable or dal.

Chapati Kenyasafaritravelplus, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

28. Pigeon Pea Stew, Caribbean

Pigeon pea stew, a Caribbean dish, was a cost-effective way to feed families. Pigeon peas are a cheap source of protein and can be cooked with whatever vegetables and meats are available.

1024Px-Dal DhokaliKartikMistry on Wikimedia Commons

29. Acorn Porridge, Native America

Acorn porridge was a staple food for some Native American tribes. Acorns were abundant, free, and when processed correctly, provided a nutritious and filling meal.

Aaron-Burden-Ppohjezoalu-UnsplashPhoto by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

30. Kartoffelsalat (Potato Salad), Germany

Kartoffelsalat, a German potato salad, was a popular dish among the working class. Potatoes were affordable and the salad could be made in large quantities, making it a practical dish for feeding many people.

Potato Salad With Egg And MayonnaiseZeamays, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons