Ancient Roman MealsThe ancient Romans were similar to todays generations in their eatinghabits but never ate three hearty meals a day.
Ientaculum and prandium weremerely appetizers that filled their stomachs unitl the large cena, the eventthey look forward to since awakening. They had names for their meals similar toours, breakfast (ientaculum), lunch (prandium), and dinner (cena).Breakfast, ientaculum was usually taken about nine o’clock and consistedof merely a few pieces of bread sprinkled in salt or dipped in wine, and with afew raisins and olives, and a little cheese added. The poorest Romans atelittle other than wheat either crushed to make a porridge or ground into flourfor bread.Lunch, or prandium was usually taken at noon. It was usually nothingmore than a piece of bread accompanied by cold meat, vegetables, and fruitwashed down with a glass of wine. Both ientaculum and prandium were so shortthere was no need to set the table or wash ones hands.The only serious meal was the evening dinner or cena.
Dinner time waspractically the same for all Romans due to the lack of artificial light. Dinnerwas after the bath at the end of the eigth hour in winter and at the ninth insummer. The food is mostly cold,-breads, salads, olives, cheeses, and meatsremaing from last nights dinner. Occasionally, hot dishes such as ham and pig’sheads are feasted upon. Some wealthy Romans would have as many as seven coursesto feed on.Trimalchio, a wealthy Roman would have a bronzed donkey with appetizerdishes of olives, stuffed dormice rolled in honey and poppy seed, hot sausageswere laid on a silver grill next to pomegranate and damson seeds.
The guestswere still busy with the hors d’oeuvres when a tray would be brought in with abasket on it, in which there was a wooden hen spreading her wings. Under thestraw were Peahen eggs that would base passed out. Each egg contained a fatbecafico rolled up in spiced egg yolkf. There were plates with the twelve signsof Zodiac on them that had food matas ching the symbol, ram, bull, crab, figs,lion, etc.
Some hosts would heat a wfshole pig and then entertain his guests byhaving skilled swordmen carve the pa fig like he was killing it. After eating,many guests would entertain each othed sfr in belching. It was consideredpolite to belch and release wind after a ni sce meal.
Guests would simply snaptheir fingers and servants would come running with vases to contain urine.Spitting was also allowed on the floors of the triclinium.It is hard to imagine eating after a large dinner but dessert was next.In rich homes, dessert would be served after a bath and then led into a seconddining room where wine flowed like water. Dessert consisted of every kind offruit imaginable. Poppy-seed mixed with honey is a standard dish for dessertThe majority of the common Romans baked bread in public bakeries. Thestandard loaves are made very flat, about two inches thick, and marked withnotches on the top.
There were three kinds of grains used to make bread.Coarse grain (panis sordidus) for the common people. Panis secundus for thehigher class and the very white and sweet siligincus for the rich. At feaststhere will be wonderful pastry castles and sweet cakes truly amazing with theuse of honey, chopped fruits, and nuts.Vegetables and fruits were plenitful in Rome.
For many miles one couldsee gardens that send artichokes, asparagus, beans, beets, cucumber, lentils,melons, onions, peas, and pumpkins into the city. Garlic is also very popularin Roman dishes. Italy was an excellent fruit country and apples, pears, plums,grapes, and quinces were common in the markets. A wide selection of nutsincluding walnuts, filberts, and almonds were used in cooking and jsut plaineating. Peaches, apricots, cherries, and pomegranates were found in Rome butwere not as abundant.
Salad greens were in great demand in Rome.The demand for meat in Rome was constantly increasing as the years wentby. Butcher shops became more popular which allowed poor people the opportunityto get meat. The poor people would buy goat’s flesh which was competely ignoredby finniky eaters. Beef was never really popular in Rome. Common people nevertasted beef unless it was presented at a sacrifice or great public festival.Even for the rich, beef was no real treat.
Pork was always popular. Pork inall forms especially bacon and sausage was a treat to all Romans. Poultry wasin greater demand than meat. Coops full of common fowl, ducks, and geese wereon sale on every street corner. Hares, rabbits, venison, and wild boar werealso available. The butcher shops were far less important than the fish dealershops.
Poor people would eat salt fish of pickled fish, from little sardines toslices of the big fish. Fresh fish was very hard to get in Rome. There are feweels and good pike available in Rome.
The majority of the fish supply must bebrought from afar. Some sea-food would be transported still alive in smalltanks.Olive oil was not only food but also served the purpose of bathroom soap.It was a complete substitute for butter and made dry and moldy bread edible.It also was the basis for most perfumes and ointments. Practically every Romanhousehold had wine available. Beer and other drinks made from wheat and barleywere available and so were distilled liquors but they would never apear atItalian banquets like wine.
Enormours vineyards were common in Rome.Guests were invited for dinner parties by the master during baths or byslave messenger. Out of pride, the master of the house would invite as many aspossible to dine with him and plenty of distinguished Roman citizens would havebeen happy to join in a family meal. Some hosts would invite many people butonly serve utensils and fine dishes to a select few.
Some hosts would servewine to individuals based upon ones social status. This kind of discriminationmade some feel cheap and paltry. The standard size for a dinner party ws nine.Three couches, three guests to a coach meant for a single set of serving tablesand easy conversation. For larger parties, one must have more triclinia(couches). Rich Romans always served cena in a special room called a tricliniumwhose length was twice its width. Before the guests arrived, the master cookwas ordering his slaves in the kitched and a chamberlain (upper slave) wouldshout cleaning orders to lower slaves and whip them if they weren’t cleaningfast enough.
A few signs of dirt before a party was a sign of disrespect toones guests. The Romans ate lying down resting on the left elbow. The eatingcouches had three reclining places. The reclining postition was consideredindispensible to dining comfort. The Roman women took their place next to theirman on the triclinia. The children ate sitting on stools in front of theirparents couches. Slaves reclined like their masters only on holidays and wouldusually eat in another room.Three sloping couches were placed around a square table with one sideleft open for serving.
Blankets and pillows were arranged also on the couches.The couch of honor was that opposite the empty side of the table, (lectusmedius) and on it the most honorable position was the right hand one called theconsular. Next in honor came the couch to the left of the central couch calledthe lectus summus and the last couch on the right lectus imus. The guestreclined crosswise on their left elbow, their feet, which were without shoes hadbeen washed upon entrance.An usher (nomenclator) announced the guests and pointed them to theirassigned couch. Waiters (ministratores) brought in the dishes and the bowls andplaced them on the tables. The tables were very plain.
No tableclothes butvery shiny surfaces. A preliminary course of gustatio was served to stimulatethe appetite. On silver dishes came eggs, crabs, salads, and mushrooms. Winewas served in embossed silver cups.
Depending on how many courses were servedthe dinner would come out to the sweet sounds of a live flute band and a slavewould cut meat off the whole boar and serve it to the guests. Between eachcourse, water was passed and the guests washed their hands and put on a lightscented perfume on their hands. It was customary for guests to take a largenapkin and fill it with scraps for later. Finally, dessert came and the guestswere treated to beautiful pastrys, artificali oysters, dried grapes and almonds,and fruits.After the conclusion of the regular dinner, the guests would stay andshare stories around the drinking bowl. The guests would customarily take abath and then mix water with pure wine to dilute it.
Spanish dancing girlswould then perform acrobatics, tumbling, and act out plays. The male guestsalso have the option of having orgy with the dancers. Drinking is done to allowthe tongue to loosen and give wisdom and advice.
An offering was also given tothe gods. While servants were distribtuing wine, other servants were passingout flowered wreaths and perfume. The fragrant flowers were supposed to wardoff drunkeness.
During all this talk and excitement, flute and harp playersplayed behind a curtain.Many banquets lasted eight or ten hours. They were divided into acts.After each main course, dancers and musicians performed while riddles were told,lotteries held, and tricks performed. Roman cooks spent much time and effortcooking for banquets and would even disguise one food as another. Cooks showedtheir skill by trying to fool the eye by making fish out of a sows belly,chicken out of pork, cakes made to look like boiled eggs, and doves out of ham.
The presentation and display of the food was just as important as the taste.