Ancient Roman Food : Brain pudding, anyone?

For us food is more than just fuel for the body.  We center many of our social events around food.  We time our days around our meals.  Some people make food their whole life by becoming chefs, restaurant owners, food critics, and gourmets.  Food was an important part of daily life in Ancient Rome too, and similar to our culture, the food consumed was different depending on what each individual or family could afford.

Most Romans ate simple foods.  They ate wheat bread by itself or with a bit of goat's cheese or honey.  They ate porridge made from water, wheat, salt, and vegetables.  If they could scrape together enough money, a little olive oil, pork, poultry, or seafood might go in the mix too.

Richer Romans could afford more exotic ingredients and a lot more meat.  They whipped these ingredients into dishes that were a little different from what we're used to.  Examples include wild boar, peacock, fried pig liver sausage, brain pudding sausage, boiled ostrich, scalded flamingo in sauce, and fish liver pudding.  Dormice, a rodent, was a delicacy in ancient Rome.

The Romans ate many different type of vegetables including asparagus, beans, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, celery, cucumbers, lettuce, olives, onions, peas, and radishes.  They also at fruits such as apples, apricots, blackberries, cherries, dates, figs, grapes, pomegranates, and strawberries.

A food painting from Pompeii

A lot of spices were used in Roman cooking.  Without refrigeration, and with a generally warm Mediterranean climate in much of the Roman territory, food spoiled, but with enough spices it was still edible.  Salt, garlic, ginger, vinegar, thyme, celery seed, pepper, and parsley were some herbs, spices and flavorings the Romans used.

Spoiled food wasn't always bad, though.  A favorite condiment of the ancient Romans was a fish sauce called garum.  Garum was made by putting fish innards -- blood, intestines, and generally inedible organs -- with salt in a barrel or pot.  This mixture was left in the sun for a few months to get happy, as Emeril might put it.  It turned to liquid and was then ready to be strained and eaten with various dishes as a sauce or added to wine or water for "flavoring."  The semi-solid stuff that was left after straining was sold to the poor for use in porridge.

Many Romans skipped breakfast, ate a light lunch, and had a big supper.  Utensils existed, but food was often eaten using the fingers.  The most common drink was very weak wine.  Eating was done outside if possible, as was the actual cooking.  Roman kitchens were smoky because there were no chimneys, just a hole in the wall or ceiling. 

Rich Romans reclined on a couch as they ate.  If it was a dinner party, they were entertained by dancers or musicians.  These parties could last late into the night, and it was perfectly acceptable to throw up to make room for more boiled partridge, fried dormice, or whatever the main dish was that night.

I think I would be willing to try some traditional Roman food, once.  Who knows, I might love it.

Oh what the heck.  Bring on the garum shots!

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