The history of Rome is not only about politics and military achievements, but also about a culinary tradition that is rooted in the Republican and Imperial Rome. This tradition is still alive today.
But how did the ancient Romans eat? First of all, let’s make a distinction between the common people and the wealthy classes.
How did the common people eat in Rome?
The low-middle class diet was mainly based on the products from the countryside surrounding Rome: legumes and vegetables.
Among the most common dishes there was the “polenta“: a pulp of cereals and legumes, whose recipe changed according to the availability of basic products.
Noteworthy is the “quinto quarto“, that is the remains of cattle and sheep, discarded by the rich and destined classes for the people: it is, in essence, all that is edible of the interior. Widespread were also pork or bovine paws with which the sauces were spiced, and “coratella“: a set of sheep’s interiors (heart, liver and lungs).
How did the wealthy classes eat in Rome?
The wealthy classes diet, obviously, was much richer and elaborated.
The meals of the day were three: breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Breakfast (ientaculum) was quite rich and consisted of buns, breads, dried fruits and meat.
- Lunch (prandium) was a rather savory meal based on legumes, olives, figs, sheep cheese or goat cheese, meat skewers or grilled fish. The meal followed a glass of hot wine or a hot beverage made up of wine, water, honey and spices.
- The main meal was the dinner (coena): it usually consisted of about seven courses and could last for six or seven hours. Most of the times, the dinner took place in a special room, the triclinium (Greek term indicating a kind of triple bed): here the diners consumed the food lying on the left side, leaning their elbow on a cushion.
The appetizer provided pumpkins, olives, hard boiled eggs, vegetables and snails, served with bread and olive oil.
As main courses there were usually lobsters, oysters, chicken, pork, sheep, game and poultry meat. Unusual (for us) dishes were also served, like camel and flamingo paws. All the dishes were accompanied by the mulsum: the famous Roman honey wine, very appreciated in that times.
The meal ended with fruit and sweets, mostly based on honey and wine.
The evening continued with the symposium, where the diners drank well-watered wine while still eating some food, such as leeks.
The ancient Romans didn’t use forks; in fact, solid food was eaten with hands, in small doses so that diners did not get dirty; instead, soups were eaten with spoons that were already in use. The diners often carried silver thimbles, so their fingers would not be dirty; otherwise, at the end of the meal, they used scented water to wash their hands.
It was common use to drink a toast to a diner, drinking as many glasses of wine as were the letters of his name.despite the fact that the Romans usually liked exaggerations, they were voted to the concept of “continentia”: it means that a worthy man never ate until he was ill and never drank until he got drunk