Today we continue our trip through the ruins of Pompeii (courtesy of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts) with a closer look at one of my favorite topics, food and drink. The typical Pompeian kitchen was a dark, cramped room located in the back corner of the home. Wealthier families had slaves serve meals in a separate dining room.
The ancient Pompeian diet consisted of fruits, garden veggies, grains, eggs, and seafood. Aside from the occasional rodent, meat was rarely consumed and instead saved for public sacrifices and festivals.
The Bread – There were 40 bakeries scattered throughout the various neighborhoods of Pompeii. Each bakery contained its own mill and consequently, the fancier breads were baked in the wealthier ‘hoods. This upscale bread was so coveted, Pompeii politicians used it for bribes. If you’d like to learn how to make bribe worthy Pompeian bread, check out this 2,000-year-old bread making video (recipe included!) courtesy of the British Museum and chef, Giorgio Locatelli.
The Wine – Wine was also a staple in ancient Pompeii. The rich, volcanic soil from Mount Vesuvius, coupled with the southern Italian climate was ideal for growing grapes. A wide variety of wines were sold in Pompeii, however, according to Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD), local wines, Vesuvinum and Pompeianum were the most popular. Hundreds of amphorae were excavated from Pompeii. These decorative jugs were inscribed in Greek and indicated the various types of wine sold. Local Pompeian haunt, the Inn of Euxinus had its own small vineyard. The proprietor advertised his wine with a lucky phoenix and two peacocks painted on the amphorae.
The…Dormouse?! The nastiest bit of Pompeian cuisine was the dormouse. Considered a delicacy, special terra cotta pots called glirariums were crafted to catch and fatten the tiny rodents. Dormice could run along the interior shelf (see photo) but could not escape, in other words, dormice check in, but they don’t check out 😉
Fun Fast Food Fact: According to classicist Mary Beard, there were 150 fast food restaurants in ancient Pompeii. Like today’s restaurants, they offered take away food, counter seating, and in larger establishments, back room seating. Unfortunately, there were no drive thru windows. The upper class preferred to dine in the opulence of their homes or posh restaurants (think fountains and reclined seating). Wine was definitely on the menu, and the delectable dormouse was most likely too.
Cities of Vesuvius: Pompeii and Herculaneum (2013), Pamela Bradley