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What did ancient Romans eat?


Still life showing a basket of fruits and vases

The basic ingredient of an ancient Roman dinner was the bread of various types of flour: black bread (panis rusticus, plebeius), white bread (panis secundaris) and the most delicate luxury bread (panis candidus, uniform). There were also popular vegetables: lettuce, cabbage, leeks, chickpeas, broad beans (boiled, roasted), goat’s cheese and olives. Beef and various kinds of venison were valued (including deer meat and wild donkey), however fish dishes were the most favoured.

Typical of Roman cuisine was the custom of combining sweet flavors with salty, mixing in one dish vinegar and mint, honey and cooked must puree fruit. In the basements in small terracotta amphoras, a valuable and almost legendary fish sauce was stored – garum – used for seasoning dishes. At the table, there was never a shortage of fruit (apples, crumbs, grapes) and mushrooms. The Romans also made simple flour pancakes that looked a bit flattering. Richer citizens, each official meal started with eggs (hence the proverb ab ovo – “from the egg”, meaning from the beginning).

The Romans usually ate three meals a day. Morning light breakfast: bread, wine, sometimes cheese, eggs, fruit and honey. At noon light dinner: based on eggs, fruit and greens. The main meal was dinner. It could start already in the late afternoon and drag on all night. After a hearty appetizer (gustationes), numerous dishes (ferculae) were served, filled with multum, a wine and honey vinegar.

The Romans began their lunch with snacks, the first of which were eggs. They served fruit for dessert. Hence the saying: “from the egg to the apples” ( ab ovo usque ad mala). The main meal was meat or fish dishes with vegetables. All this was abundantly drunk with wine with the addition of honey or strongly diluted water.

More about the Romans dietary habits

Sources

  • Bardel Michał, Wielkie żarcie w oczach Petroniusza, czyli o rzymskich zbytkach w dziedzinie jedzenia i picia, "Misięcznik ZNAK", October 2007

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