The Buddha's humanness sometimes gets obscured behind a vale of legend and myth. This is surprising given that the Tipiñaka contains so much realistic information about him, more in fact than about any of the great religious teachers of the past. It gives us a detailed and plausible picture of his physical appearance, his way of teaching, the impact he had on others and his habits and routine. It even tells us something about the food he ate.
There is very little reliable information about any aspect of the Buddha's life until he renounced the world to become a wandering ascetic. But as a young man from a privileged background he must have eaten very well until that time. After studying at the feet of various teachers he embarked on a course of extreme self-mortification. As a part of this practice he ate scraps and waste food, including the scum from boiling rice, the solids left after the oil had been extracted from sesame seeds, grass and even cow dung. At one point, going to the outer limits of extremism, he even ate his own faeces and drank his own urine. However, he also sometimes ate more wholesome food such as a type of rice called daddula and the wild rice now known by botanists as Oryza rufipogon (M.I,78).
After seeing the futility of such self-mortification, the Buddha decided to try another approach. But first he had to recover his strength and he did this he said, by eating boiled rice and kummàsa (M.I,247). Then as now, rice was boiled in water with a pinch of salt added. Kummàsa was made by boiling various grains and pulses, but particularly Lyon beans (Mucuna nivea) and Black Gram (Vigna mungo), until it became thick and then making it into lumps. Although kummàsa was considered an inferior food it would actually have been both filling and nutritious. We are told that just after attaining enlightenment, two passing merchants saw the Buddha and offered him gruel made from barley meal and honey balls (Vin.I,4). This too would have been a nutritious and satisfying meal. From then on and until the end of his life, the Buddha ate whatever he was given, whether it was rich and sumptuous or plain and simple.
A common food he often ate was rice gruel which was probably made by boiling rice and water to a thin consistency and adding salt, a garlic clove and a few pepper corns. The Buddha said there were five advantages of this gruel; it dispels hunger, quenches thirst, regulates wind, cleanses the bowels and helps digest the remnants of food (A.III,250). At other times he ate much richer fare; rice with the black specks removed (vicitakàëakabhatta) together with a selection of sauces and curries (M.II,7-8). We are told that on another occasion he was served pork (såkaramaüsa) with jujube fruit (Zizyphus jujube, A.III,49). The Buddha was once offered a meal of rice gruel cooked with jujube and sesame oil and mixed with pepper, garlic and làmajjaka (Vv.43,6). The Vinaya mentions that he also sometimes ate fruit such as rose-apple, mango, yellow myrobalan and embolic myrobalan (Vin.I,30). These last two fruits are tart-tasting but rich in vitamins A and C and iron. The Buddha's last meal was a dish called såkaramaddava but unfortunately we do not know what this consisted of (D.II,127).
The Buddha once said that `the body comes into being because of food and is dependent on food'(A.II,145). This was as true for enlightened people like himself as it is for everyone else. See Vegetarianism.