Let us hop in our culinary time machine and set a course for the Roman Empire. FYI, the favored condiment of that mighty ancient culture was a sauce called garum, and it was made from fermented fish guts and blood—mackerel was especially popular—plus herbs and salt. Yum, yum!
Vox has created a handy video tutorial for anybody who’d like to fashion their own batch and give it a taste, along with some context and recipe variations:
It was so popular that poets wrote about it, though not uncritically: Martial said that for young Romans on the prowl, dating someone who’d recently eaten garum was a frightening proposition. While garum is similar to modern fish sauces, most taste testers report that its flavor is surprisingly subtle, teasing out the umami in seasoned foods.
As is common in tracking down ancient customs,what counts as “garum” requires using the best available information to make an educated guess. But these recipes might give you an idea of what this popular ancient Roman sauce tasted like.
In both the video and the accompanying article, garum is framed as completely disgusting. But as somebody who’d happily choke back three dozen raw oysters... I’m not mad at it.