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What people ate in ancient Rome
What people ate in ancient Rome

Through literature and pictorial sources, we know quite a lot about the food of the ancient Romans. Up to specific recipes.

Simple Roman food

The cooking of the estates, of course, varied, but there were also common features. First of all, the inhabitants of the empire were united by the relative monotony of the food set. In the Mediterranean, there were no products that today seem to be the simplest: no potatoes, tomatoes, rice, eggplants, bananas, pineapples, sunflower oil, corn, sweet peppers (although they are called "Bulgarian", but also brought from America), oranges and tangerines, lemons (only citron was known from citrus in general) and much more.

But cucumbers, zucchini, cabbage, turnips, pumpkins, onions, olives, salads and rutabagas were grown. From fruits and berries - apples, pears, figs, pomegranates, quince, peaches, plums and grapes. Legumes were also common food: peas, lentils and beans. These foods, as a good and always available source of protein, fed the common Romans as well as slaves and were the basis of the diet of warriors and gladiators. Garlic and onions, which were always abundant, were often added to bean stew.

In the 1st century. BC e. Marcus Terentius Varro wrote: "The breath of our grandfathers and great-grandfathers smelled of garlic and onions, but their spirit was the spirit of courage and strength."

Poultry, fish, dates, asparagus and seafood

An important part of the diet was cereals and their derivatives - porridge and bread. Porridge (usually spelled and millet) Roman writers prefer as a moderate everyday meal, which was followed by the ancestors who made Rome great. Valery Maxim in the 1st c. n. e. admired "the simplicity of food observed from the ancients." And until the 3rd century. BC BC, when the real economic prosperity of the republic came, most of the Romans (and even the nobility) ate modestly.

Ovid (1st century BC - 1st century AD) described in one of his works the dinner given to his guests by the characters Philemon and Bavkid, who were placed in antiquity: a little stored up smoked pork, vegetables from the garden (radish and salad), milk, eggs, nuts and berries, plums and grapes. Guests were also offered honey, wine and "hospitality". Quite a solid table for a poor couple.

Simil, the hero of another poet (Virgil), is also not a noble - a plowman of a small field. The poet describes his breakfast: Simil "with difficulty tore the body from the wretched, low bed …" and goes to the pantry, where he takes the grain and grinds it himself. After making flour, he adds water, kneads the dough and bakes plain bread. And for bread, you usually want something else. But "near the hearth he did not hang on hooks for meat / Ham or the carcass of a pig smoked with salt: / Only a circle of cheese, pierced in the middle with a reed, / Was hung on them and a bunch of dried dill."

It happened in early spring, and there was already some greenery in the garden. Simil took garlic, celery, rue and coriander. He pounded all this in a mortar with salt and cheese, added olive oil and a bit of vinegar. “After two fingers, going around the entire mortar along the walls, / He collects the concoction and sculpts a lump from the mash: / Upon completion, it is rightly called“pounded”. Simil consumed all this together with bread - this is the peasant's breakfast at the beginning of the field work season.

Edil Distributing Bread to the Urban Poor

Here it is worth making a clarification about cheese and dairy products in general and about bread. In addition to cereals and vegetables, the Romans' diet included milk (primarily sheep and goat), cheese and cottage cheese. Bread was baked most often wheat and barley (without oil and yeast), and sometimes spelled, made, as Pliny wrote, with raisin juice.

But the common population did not have an abundance of meat, but everyone knew pork, chicken, geese, wild birds (blackbirds, pigeons, etc.) and fish. Ancient authors left us a lot of recipes for cooking different meat dishes. What else united all Romans? Of course, wine is an affordable and healthy drink. It was drunk by all segments of the population, as a rule, strongly diluted with water and often sweetened with honey. They drank beer less often.

Patrician table

From about the 3rd c. BC e. wealthy Romans did not confine themselves to simple porridge and bread, but more and more sought to taste delicious dishes. Even if you do not remember the emperors, who, for the sake of aesthetics, might have demanded to add pearls to exotic rice, the food of the nobility was more and more amazing.

During the period of the early empire, the philosopher Seneca protested against all excesses: “Do you think that mushrooms, this tasty poison, do not do their work on the sly, even if they do not immediately harm? […] Do you really think that the pliable pulp of these oysters, fed in silt, does not leave a heavy sediment in the stomach? Do you really think that the seasoning, this precious blood of rotten fish, does not burn with the salty slurry of our insides? Do you think these festering pieces that go into our mouth directly from the fire cool down in our womb without any harm?

What a vile poison it burps then! How disgusting we ourselves are when we breathe wine fumes! You might think that what is eaten is not digested inside, but rots! I remember that once they talked a lot about an exquisite dish, into which our gourmets, hurrying to their own destruction, mixed everything for which they usually spend the day: the edible parts of venus and spiny shells and oysters were separated by sea urchins laid between them, from above there was a layer of red beards (approx. - fish) […]. Laziness is already eating everything separately - and now what should come out in a full stomach is served on the table. All that is missing is that everything is brought already chewed! […] Really, the food is mixed in the vomit no less! And how complex these dishes are, so different, many-like and incomprehensible diseases are generated by them … ".

How many luxurious feasts the philosopher saw, if this assortment already caused such anger! One can imagine. In the 1st century. n. e. Mark Gavius ​​Apicius, in addition to many seasonings and complex sauces, in his popular recipes suggested using it with ordinary meat: fat, brains and intestines, liver, raw eggs (all this can be combined and flavored with spices). The sophisticated nobility ate Drozdov only stuffed with nuts and raisins. And what about the then widespread fish sauce "garum", made from fish salted in a vat and lying in the sun for several months (the sauce itself was then drained from the vat of slurry)! Indeed, I do not want to continue this unappetizing series, especially since it would be too long.

Mosaic "Inhabitants of the Sea"

Suffice it to generalize - noble and jaded Romans often chased after new tastes and expensive dishes, demonstrating their well-being at numerous receptions. The most affordable way to complicate and increase the cost of food was a combination of expensive and small ingredients in one dish - as, for example, described by the writer of the 1st century. n. e. Petronium fried dormouse with poppy seeds and honey or a pig stuffed with sausages and offal.

The recipe by which even today each of us can make an ancient Roman dinner

The already mentioned culinary specialist Apicius also gives many recipes that today can be considered quite acceptable. Some of his richest contemporaries, perhaps, would have recognized this recipe as rustic, and even to a man of the 21st century. it won't seem overly complicated.

Chicken with thyme sauce

Ready (boiled or fried) chicken (1.5 kg); ½ tsp ground pepper; 1 tsp thyme; ½ tsp cumin; a pinch of fennel; a pinch of mint; a pinch of rosemary or rue; 1 tsp wine vinegar; ¼ cups of chopped dates 1 tsp honey; 2 cups chicken stock 2 tsp olive or butter. Grind pepper, thyme, cumin, fennel, mint and rosemary in a mortar. Combine with vinegar, dates, honey, broth and oil. Bring to a boil. Within 30 min. simmer the cooked chicken in the sauce.

Bon Appetit!

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