Food in Ancient Rome

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Il cibo nell'antica Roma
Naples National Archaeological Museum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Ever heard of the idiom that goes, “you are what you eat?” This is unmistakably true when referring to the food in Ancient Rome. The plebeians, considered as the lowest class in the society at their time, simply fed on cereals. As for the patricians who were the most noble of all as they were the only ones permitted to take on government positions, they feasted on exotic dishes from the faraway lands. They had three courses of delicious meals in such a plushy ambiance as only the very rich can afford.

The majority of the Romans in Ancient Rome, centered their food on oil, wine and grain but the affluent, had great variety of food. The grain originally arrived in the form of husked wheat which were made into porridge. Later, frumentum came about and was the main ingredient in making pastries. At some instances, honey and cheese were added for sweetness and deeper flavor.

At this modern juncture, some delicacies are produced uniquely in certain towns. The food in Ancient Rome also had its own share of uniqueness wherein snails or colloquially termed as dormice, were specially bred. This delicacy of snails is very much welcome among the locals and even tourists ask for this exotic food.There were also a huge array of cakes and tarts that were commercially prepared but the most delectable were those that were home made. Beets, lettuce, cabbage, onion, asparagus, marrows, garlic,, lentils, radishes and beans were imported. Also available were fruits and nuts and strongly flavored sauces, herbs and spices to enhance their cuisine.

It is said that the only authentic source of account of the food in Ancient Rome can be found in the book authored by Apicus. There may have been plenty that you were able to encounter as you have been reading their history every now and then. As to their beverages, they loved drinking wine to water down what they have consumed. Some drinks they had, were regarded as barbaric because of the very strong concentration. Pasca is another thirst-quencher that was a hit among the servants. It was generated out of acetum, a type of vinegar that is of poor quality. In the provinces of the northern region, beer and mead were common. Milk, typically from sheep or goats was taboo for them and was reserved for medication when sick people need nourishment.

Do not ever think that brunch, a combination of breakfast and lunch, only rose to popularity at this contemporary time where a lot of people are just too conscious of what they are eating. Actually, it does not really apply to all because there are also some that just munch on what they love in order to satisfy their gastronomic cravings. Anyhow, it all begun in the primitive period where ancient Rome food consisted of bread, salad, olives, cheese, fruits, nuts and meat that were all served at about 11 o’ clock in the morning. After eating, it was followed by a rest.

During dinner, ancient Rome food mostly involved vegetables. It was basically very simple as compared to the ones on a broad daylight. Prepared by the mother or if the family is affluent, the meal will be arranged by the female servants under the mother’s direction. They will dine in the atrium where table and stools are set up then the rest of the family members come together when everything is all ready. When it comes to the utensils, knives and forks were considered to be very cryptic, they would be using spoons. The meals were cut into small slices so they can be easily picked by hands. However, in the last two centuries of the Republic where there were already councils in the senate, the style has changed a bit. When it came to industrialization, there were further developments such as a separate area where everybody feasted. Then instead of the benches, there were now couches.

In the Imperial Age, the lowest class in the society called plebians, they were surviving on porridge that was made out of vegetables. If they had some extra money on their budget, then they would eat fish, bread, olive, wine and meat. The plebians were helped by the government with a somewhat welfare program called the “annona.” There was also a separate one for the kids called “alimenta” that started in the early 2C AD. It was done by giving each, stamps which were little tokens called “tesserae.” They brought with them containers to hold the wheat or flour given to them. On special events, meat was also distributed.

On the other hand, the ancient Rome food for the patricians was way elaborate. Parties were held for men while women and children also had their own. Wine was never missed out and they spent long hours socializing with one another. It was total entertainment for them where some played the musical instruments while others danced.


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