For my Latin final, I decided to do a presentation on cibus romanus otherwise known as Ancient Roman cuisine. So let me enlighten you once again..
The main staple of ancient Roman cuisine was wheat. It was used to make breads and porridge. Meals were centered around grains, oil, and wine. Food was eaten with fingers and cut with knives made from anter, wood, or bronze with an iron blade. Spoons were only used for eggs and liquids, and the spoons were made from bronze, silver, or bone. The spoons had pointed handles, which were used to extract shellfish and snails from their shells. Most food was cooked over an open hearth, (either by means of cauldrons suspended from chains or cooking vessels set on gridirons) where the smoke could escape out a small hole in the ceiling through a wall vent (if the Roman had a culina-kitchen). Cooking was also known to be done outside by using communal ovens.
Bread in the ancient Roman times varied widely depending on the type of flour used. The best bread was made from wheat flour, while the worst bread was made from bran. Some types of breads were libae, panis primus, panis plebeius, panis rusticus, and siligineus. Libae were smaller rolls, panis primus was a cheap, coarse grain bread, panis plebeius was bread made of coarse wheat flour, panis rusticus was bread made out of bran, and siligineus was white bread. And sometimes, legumes such as beans green peas, and lentils were added to bread. Breads as well as pastries were baked in a circular domed oven.
Figs, apples, grapes, pears, plums, and pomegranates were some of the types of fruits they had back then. The Romans rarely ate berries. Fruits were eaten raw, dried, preserved, and cooked. They were dried or preserved to eat them later for the winter.
Some of the vegetables they had during the Ancient Roman time were artichokes, asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbages, cucumbers, garlic, leeks, lentils, lettuce, mushrooms, olives, onions, peas, radishes, and turnips. Beans and peas were important to the diets of the lower class, and they were sold dried or sold hot by street vendors. The Romans believed cabbage prevented drunkenness, cured paralysis, and protected people from the plague. They also believed that garlic gave soldiers courage and that lettuce was a laxative.
The different types of meat the Romans consumed were beef, veal, pork, dormice, goat, hare, lamb, and mutton. The different types of poultry they consumed were chicken, crane, dove, duck, flamingo, goose, ostrich, pigeon, thrushes, and peacock. The poor rarely bought meat, since it was so expensive to buy. Back then, meat was boiled more often than it was roasted. And pork and stuffed dormice were considered delicacies.
There were many types of seafood then. Some of these includes carp, catfish, clams, crab, eel, flounder, lobster, mackerel, swordfish, trout, mussels, octopus, oysters, prawns, rays, sardines, tuna, and shark.
If you were not rich in the Ancient Roman time, food could be rather bland. So the Romans had sauces to spice up their food. Some of these sauces include garum and defrutum. Garum, also known as liquamen, was a fish sauce made from fish entrails and squished into a paste, layered with salt and spices, and fermented for twenty to thirty days. It was poured over eggs, meat, and vegetables, or spread on bread. Defrutum was a concentrated wine used to preserve and sweeten wine and it was also added to fruit and meat dishes. Other sauces made from vinegar, honey, pepper, herbs and spices were also popularly used.
The Romans loved to drink wine. However, they drank wine that was watered down, spiced, and heated. Drinking undiluted wine or beer was considered to be barbaric. Some other drinks the Romans drank were calda, mulsum, and posca. Calda was typically a winter drink made of warm water and wine with spices. Mulsum was a drink made of a mixture of boiled wine and honey. Posca was a drink popular among the lower class. It was made from a diluted wine that was similar to vinegar.
Some foods and drinks unknown to the Romans are bananas, chili peppers, chocolate, buttered corn, peanuts, potatoes, rice, tomatoes, coffee, sugar, and tea. It’s not that the Romans did not like these foods and drinks, but rather these were not introduced to humans until later on in time.
The Romans usually ate one large meal per day. At first, the meals of ordinary Romans were the ientaculum (breakfast), cena (dinner), and vesperna (a light supper). Later on, however, cena was eaten during the evening and prandium (lunch) was added. Ientaculum was at sunrise or the first hour. Breakfast was a light meal, usually a slice of bread or a cup of water. However, foods that could be served at breakfast were wheat pancake biscuits; bread dipped in wine; bread flavored with a little cheese, dried fruits or honey; or bread with salt, honey, dates, or olives. Breakfast was followed by prandium at 11 a.m. Lunch usually consisted of a light meal of eggs with bread, cheese, and possibly some meat. Cena was the largest meal of the day, eaten around late afternoon or early evening. At a household, if the master of the house had no guests-dinner could last an hour. If the master of the house did have guests-dinner could last up to four hours.
Meals, however, differed between the poor and the wealthy. Meals for the poor usually consisted of porridge or bread with vegetables or meat, if they could afford it.
Meals for the wealthy were divided into 3 courses: appetizer, prima mensa (main course), and secunda mensa (dessert). Some foods served as appetizers were salads, radishes, mushrooms, eggs, oysters, and sardines. The main course consisted of a seafood dish, meat dish, and/or poultry dish. And honey-sweetened cakes and fruit were eaten for dessert. Some popular desserts included stuffed dates, honeyed bread, and itrion-honey biscuits with sesame seeds.
It’s interesting how much food, meals, and utensils have evolved since then..