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Eating Like the Ancient Romans

The ancient Romans generally ate one main meal a day, around sunset. Originally this was eaten around midday, preceded by a light meal, often just a piece of bread, early in the morning. This was called ientaculum (or breakfast). Supper or vesperna was a smaller meal in the evening. However, cena came to be taken later in the day and eventually became the evening meal. Vesperna then disappeared and a light lunch, prandium, was introduced.

For the poor, most meals were cereal (porridge or bread) supplemented by meat and vegetables if available. For the more wealthy, the main meal was divided into three courses. The appetizer was usually eggs, raw vegetables, fish or shellfish, prepared simply, eaten with wine sweetened with honey. The main course consisted of cooked vegetables and meat (fish, game, poultry, pork), served with wine. This was followed by a sweet course or dessert, consisting of fruit or sweet pastries.

 Eating customs and manners: 

The Romans often ate sitting upright, but the wealthy reclined on couches, particularly when they were at dinner parties, and they would often dine outdoors in their gardens with the weather permitted. Cooking vessels were pottery and bronze, sometimes glass or pewter. Food was eaten with the fingers, though it was cut with knives, one for each person eating. Spoons could also be used, for eating liquid and eggs, and their pointed handles served as devices for extricating shellfish or snails from their shells.

What did they eat? Like today, the Roman diet and customs depended on the standard of living and the region. Diet was based on corn, oil, and wine. Staples were cereals, mainly wheat, which was prepared either as porridge (puls) or later bread. At most meals, bread would be accompanied by sausage, domestic fowl, game, eggs, cheese, fish, and shellfish. Fish and oysters were particularly popular. Pork was also available. Roman delicacies were snails and dormice. The Romans also liked pastries and tarts, sweetened with honey.

Vegetables, which formed an important part of the diet, included cabbage, parsnips, lettuce, asparagus, onions, garlic, radishes, lentil, beans, and beets.

  • Question /

    Do you think that the ancient Roman diet was healthy?

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  • Question /

    Do you think you could eat more vegetables?

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  1. I should eat more vegetables, but it takes time to cook them, and green leafy salads need to be very well washed so that all the pesticides and bugs are washed out. It takes a lot of time. So I don’t tend to have the time and so I don’t eat as much vegetables as I should.

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