Meet the Romans – What did they eat? [Ep2]

So how was the cuisine down in Ancient Rome?

The food of Ancient Rome is often called the “most rounded and balanced diet of the ancient world”. And if you know the variety of different meats, vegetables and cheeses they ate, it’s not hard to see why. Although it is debatable whether they were better fed than their surrounding Mediterranean neighbours, we can be certain that if you had money, you had food – and talented chefs that could cook it.

A wide range of food was to be enjoyed. Wealthier individuals – often patricians, members of the aristocracy or successful merchants – could afford to eat many different kinds of meat frequently. These sources of protein included birds like duck and peasant, as well as boar and venison. Beef was not particularly popular with the Romans. Additionally, sea creatures like oysters and octopuses could be commonplace on a rich table. 

“Because they didn’t have ovens, meat was fried or boiled”

Plebeians usually pounded their oats into porridge because bread had to be made professionally. Good cooks or slaves with a cooking skill were paid large amounts for.

The Romans also had tons of fruits and vegetables; pears, plums, dates, olives, figs, grapes, apples and almonds. Leaves could be combined into amazing salads, but they did not have tomatoes, which are popular in Italy today. 

Oil gave them their fat, and honey was used to sweeten things because they did not know about sugar. From conquests of foreign regions, they brought back exotic spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. Dishes could be flavoured with herbs – or fish sauce, which was made by salting fish guts and leaving them to ferment in the sun. Wine was the staple drink for almost all Romans, and was always watered down because it was considered too sweet. Due to the enemy Germanic and Celtic tribes’ inability to grow vines in their conditions, they drunk beer, unlike the Romans.

Cheeses were produced in lots of different kinds and textures.

In the day, there were three meals. Breakfast, or “ientaculum” was served at dawn, “prandium” was served at around 11am. “cena” was the largest meal of the day and often an elaborate social affair, and could last for several hours. Food was placed upon low tables and eaters reclined on couches, picking food with their fingers. Spoons and knives were available for certain dishes, however. There were often multiple courses.

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