Sunday, January 16, 2011
What the Ancient Romans Ate
I read Giacosa's A Taste of Ancient Rome quite a few years ago, and recently found a really nice used copy of the hardback edition. So I just reread it. I was amazed that I remembered it so well, but it's totally absorbing.
The author's main message is that most days most Romans ate very very simple food. The banquets with vast numbers of dishes and the over-the-top recipes for flamingo tongues, camel toes, and little song birds were in some cases exaggerated, in others reflective only of very ostentatious events put on by show-offs. Of course I remember the dormice roasted on a stone and coated in poppy seeds and honey: the Romans loved dormice and they fattened them for the table in funny little jars. Of course I remember some of the satiric scenes from literature where the cook would say he forgot to gut a whole roast pig -- and then he'd slit it open to show all kinds of sausages. I have kept these images in mind ever since I first read the book.
Plain wheat, spelt, or barley porridge with vegetables; many egg dishes; flavoring with garum, a fermented fish sauce; ordinary cured olives; and mainly vegetarian foods seem to have been the real Roman diet. They drank water or wine (often spiced in a wide variety of ways). They viewed milk to be the drink for children and people who lived in the country. And quite a few Romans wrote about food, giving this author plenty of material, not just the recipes from the famous Apicius.