Food & Drink

The story at the table: the typical dishes of ancient Pompeii

dishes in Pompeii

You finally got to Pompeii and you give yourself a moment of relax during your trip, after admiring the most interesting monuments: Villa of the Mysteries, The Forum, House of the Faun and the Temple of Jupiter. Away from the sightseeing the eye is lost in the ruins. Imagine: vast expanses of cultivated fields, the lush green is interrupted only by the intense color of ripe fruit.

The distant sea embraces the land with its salt water. As was to be the flavor of the  pristine and sun-kissed fruit? Can you almost feel the smell of salt  while walking?

You still image and  wonder how it had to be the catch of the crystal clear water in the shadow of Vesuvius. Intuition. The story of Pompeii can be told through its food, its dishes? Sure! The culinary art of the city is full of curiosity and many Italian recipes today owe much to the kitchen of ancient Pompeii.

About curiosity: before the eruption of the 79 BC Pompeii was one of the first cities to launch the concept of modern catering: numerous roadside thermopolia offered refreshments to patrons that they could eat and drink in a short time during the lunch break. The termopolium is considered the ancestor of the modern restaurant. The best example is found in the Thermopolium Vetutius Placidus, now restored and open to the public.

The typical dishes of ancient Pompeii

The sources from which to draw in order to understand the eating habits of the Vesuvian city are numerous. About Pompeian cooking talk Latin writers like Apicius, Columella and Pliny. Their works offer a comprehensive idea of ​​what should not miss in the garden and on the tables of the people of Pompeii.

Other exhibits of priceless historical value are from Herculaneum, Oplonti and Castellammare di Stabia. These sites have yielded frescoes showing convivial scenes, fingerprints of crops and charred remains of food in perfect condition.

Exploring ancient Pompeian kitchen will be like visiting Pompeii again looking at it from another point of view, perhaps I should say savoring it from another point of view, that of taste!

At the table in Pompeii: flavors and ingredients

The food culture of Pompeii has been strongly influenced by Africa and the Orient, the reason is simple. The inhabitants of this city in the province of Naples were a trading people then enrich the dishes with new flavors, spices, foods from other places was the norm. The typical dishes of Pompeii were never equal to themselves, in the kitchen the chef liked to experiment.

Among the everyday foods they never failed bread. Of this were found charred remains. It was represented in frescoes and bas-reliefs, produced in ten variants based on the cooking method and the flour used. It also produced a special dog biscuit. In the city there were at least 34 bakers.

Among the streets of Pompeii when Mount Vesuvius still slept blessed, the smell of warm bread woke citizens risers. When everything was still surrounded by the silence of dawn, it was not hard to hear the incessant activity of lava millstones used to work it.

The bread was the food of poor people

In addition to the bread the kitchen of Pompeii was also based on the vegetables. From the charred remains of food emerges a large consumer of cauliflower grown only in the gardens of ancient Pompeii. Considered a specialty, this food was mostly eaten raw and in large quantities because it is very light and a very good support before letting go a long drinking without the risk of a stomach ache.

In the fields of Pompeii there were also: different types of lettuce, broccoli, carrots, kale and basil, also used as a medicinal herb. The asparagus were dear to Tiberius and growing wild in the countryside of the city. The lava of Vesuvius has not only destroyed, it has also preserved, in fact were found charred melon seeds, beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils.

One of the typical dishes of Pompeii made with vegetables was the stem of boiled cabbage: the leaves were chopped with coriander, onion, cumin, pepper, sweet or sweet cooked wine and a little oil.

On the table of Pompeians fruit played a crucial role, and often was served as an appetizer or as an accompaniment to dessert at the end. Much loved figs, they were also used as a condiment for their sweet taste. The olives were grown instead on  Lattari mounts, collected directly from the ground, were preserved in salt or vinegar.

The Pompeian made a fragrant oil. Even the fruits that were preserved by drying for the long winter: pears, rowan berries, apples and peaches that were believed to have healing power. Were widespread even walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, pine nuts, because they are protected from the shell, some remains were discovered in the old houses of Pompeii.

Exotic influence

The dates (the most famous came from Babylon and reserved to the king of Persia) with honey were often the sweet, the dish final after a meal: once were boned stuffed with walnuts, pine nuts and pepper, salted and then fried in honey . If you close your eyes you can imagine the sweet taste of this fruit thanks to the combination with honey, but also made strong by the stuffing. An explosion of delicate and intense flavors.

The fish was chosen and served cool during the symposia, destined to all social classes. Especially molluscs less valuable were reserved for slaves, the Balorde are an example. In Naples they are known as Mussels of the slaves.

From the sea lapping at Pompeii were fished delicious bream, anchovies, tuna, swordfish, usually salted. Inside the domus many nymphs were transformed into murenai.

Curiosity: among the dishes of fish regularly consumed in ancient Pompeii there’s one that still dominates the boards of Neapolitan cuisine: the fried anchovies scapece. Anchovies were fried and once removed from the fire by the skilled housewives Pompeii were seasoned with hot vinegar.

Unbelievable is not it? Traditions live and continue even after 2000 years of history. Besides the philosopher Feuerbach said: We are what we eat.

One more thing on this point. Did you know that the blue fish typical of the Neapolitan coast was made a condiment very appreciated by the inhabitants of Pompeii?

The garum, a sauce made by fermentation in salt of scrap parts of the cod.

Coppa per il Garum, scavi Pompei

Coppa per il Garum di Pompei

Meat, eggs and milk. These products were always present in rudimentary kitchens of the Vesuvian city. He drew fresh meat from pigs that could be preserved by smoking. During your visit to the ruins of Pompeii, you will see several signs of workshops that promoted sausages and hams.

The milk obtained from sheep and cows was an indispensable ingredient for achieving the cheese and not. You know what you’re seeing your eyes lost in the kitchens of the past, perhaps while walking along Via dell’abbondanza: expert hands smeared with white milk and kind intent on shaping tasty cheeses.

The culinary tradition of Pompeian left us the famous recipe of fresh ricotta depicted in many Pompeian frescoes. As for a typical Pompeian meat food are known meatballs, wrapped omentum, ie the guts of pork.

The wine of Pompei

On the tables of each historical period from antiquity to the present day, the wine is the preferred accompanist for dishes based on fish and meat. The Romans considered it the nectar of the gods, it was mixed with honey and citizens of Pompeii were passionate wine lovers. During the archaeological explorations in Excavations of Pompeii were found the casts of many varieties and other tidbits were planted again in the same position.

Today among the most interesting productions of wine is that of a red made up piedirosso, owes its name to one of the most fascinating archaeological sites of Pompeii: wine Villa of the Mysteries.

Its production has served to redevelop the Villa that recently opened its doors to the public.

The Pompeian kept wine in amphorae into the ground, thinking of creating a cooling effect. They drank this intense red liquid lying comfortably on couches tasting occasionally the same grapes.

A glass of wine among the ruins? Why not! Pompei can be seen, tasted, drank!

After the ingredients and dishes of ancient Pompeii I still want to tell you something about the Pompeian kitchen. Here’s a glimpse into the room: it was considered a cult and was divided into three stages:

Gustum: featuring eggs and vegetables.

Mensae Primae: meat was served roasted or boiled.

Mensae Secundae: the final part was dedicated to desserts and fruit

The culinary art of Pompeii at the EXPO

The kitchen of ancient Pompeii becomes international. Finds of food stored and retrieved will be on display at EXPO Milan Royal Palace in the exhibition”Nature and landscape myth from Ancient Greece to Pompeii”. From July 21 to January 10, 2016, figs, pomegranate peels, bunches of raisins and nuts that look freshly picked from the tree will arouse the curiosity of millions of tourists.

The bread will be one of the main protagonists are being restored as many as 81 tablets found still closed in the oven Pristinum of Modestus bakery of the ancient Stabia. They will still proudly displayed the famous Pompeian onions enhanced in numerous graffiti found inside the archaeological site.

Any questions?

The kitchen of ancient Pompeii is a journey through the history of taste. Ingredients of the place gave birth to dishes that you can still today find on our tables with simple recipes now elaborated. Want to know more? Write us in the comments! And do not forget our guide in Pompeii, which is essential to discover the city with a click.

Fonte immagine centrale

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