Roman Menus

Favorite foods.

Romans ate a wide variety of food, so it’s hard to generalize. They tended toward sweet, sour and tangy flavors. They also loved a strong and salty fish sauce, called Garum like some people love hot-sauce. Garum was made by allowing whole fish (or just their innards) to ferment and liquify, and the process was so putridly pungent that it was illegal to make at home. Some people have argued that Worchestershire (anchovie) Sauce is a descendant, but those odorific Asian fish sauces (which can clear a house) such as Nuoc Mam or Nam Pha probably come closer. These kinds of sauces add a savory depth, just as Bitters improves certain drinks, to the mixtures of sweet and sour tastes that Romans liked.

Something to drink?

Romans drank wine with their meals, and the wine

came like ours, in various grades from gut-rot to local and imported vintages. Ancient wine, however, was much more concentrated than modern wine, and Romans diluted it with water (it was considered kind of crass to drink it straight) and flavored it with various ingredients like honey and herbs. Poor Romans drank posca, a mixture of water and vinegar that could also be flavored.

What’s on the menu?

These representative menus come from a variety of sources, but represent banquet settings for the urban poor (Cena Proletaria), small rural farmer (Cena Rustica), city dweller (Cena Urbana), and aristocrat (Cena Nobilis). I used them for an entry on “Rome’s Imperial Appetites” for The Armchair Reader history series. Some of the upper crust kinds of menu items can be found in De Re Coquinaria (On Cookery“) of Apicius, a practical cookbook written for cooks (that is, upper-class household or caterer servants) around the 4th century CE. Apicius is not the author, but probably Marcus Gavius Apicius, a famous foodie and lover of fine things from the first century CE. Whoever wrote the book probably named it after Apicius in the same way that someone now might want to associate their cookbook with Julia Childs or Lynne Rosetto Kasper. Many people have adapted the recipes in it for class activities.

Gustatio et Promulsis (Appetizers and Starters)

Proletaria Rustica Urbana Nobilis
Olive Medley

Bunch Berry and Wine Preserve

Fresh Endive and Radishes

Slow-cooked Eggs

Cappadocian Lettuce

Fresh Leeks

Pickled Tuna Garnished with Sliced Eggs and Rue

Slow-cooked Eggs

“Velabrum Street” Cheese

Bottomless Treasure Chest of Sea Urchins, Oysters, and Mussels with Carrots

Warbler “Trimalchio” (Whole warbler baked in a peppered egg-crème dumpling and decorated to look like peacock eggs)

Thrush Baked with Asparagus

Roasted Capons and Figpeckers

Oyster and Mussel Pasties

Black and White Barnacles with Carrots, Sea-Smelt, and Jellyfish

Prima Mensa (Dinner and Its Courses)

Proletaria Rustica Urbana Nobilis
Puls (boiled wheat cereal) or Panis (bread) Boiled Farm Cabbage with Rafter-smoked Bacon Boiled Green Cabbage

Sausage on a Bed of Couscous

White Beans and Bacon

Wild Boar with Turnips, Lettuce, and Radish Set in a Tangy Caraway-Wine Sauce

Platter of Lamprey and Shrimp Glazed with Campanian Olive Oil, Spanish Mackerel Caviar, Wine, White Pepper, Lesbos Vinegar; Reduced in New Wine infused with Arugula, Yellowhead, and Fresh Sea Urchins

Crane Encrusted in Meal and Sea-Salt; served with Fig-Fed Goose Foie Gras and Leg of Rabbit

Parrot Rotisserie

Fish and Boar Pasties

Secunda Mensa (Desserts) and Matteae (Savories)

Proletaria Rustica Urbana Nobilis
Puls or Panis Basket of Nuts, Figs, Dates, Plums, and Apples with Honeycomb

Homemade Ricotta Cheesecake with Honey

Neapolitan Chestnuts Roasted with Raisins and Pears

Picenum Olives

Cooked Chickpeas and Lupines

Mixed Pastry and Fruit Tray Dusted in Saffron

Dates “Apicius” (pitted dates stuffed w/ nuts and pine kernels and fried in honey)

Spits of Blackbird and Squab Breasts.

Chicken with “Capped” Goose-Eggs

Bibenda (Drinks)

Proletaria Rustica Urbana Nobilis
Posca or

Cheap Wine

Posca

or

Homemade Wine Mixed with Water and Honey or Herbs.

Table Wine Mixed with Water and Honey or Herbs. Vintage Domestic and Provincial Wines, Cooled with Snow and Flavored with Honey, Herbs, or Spices.

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