Popular Ancient Roman Food Items

The Roman Empire was one of the greatest civilizations that existed during recorded history. Covering most of Europe, stretching down into northern Africa and into the Middle East, the greatest extent of the Empire occurred during 117 AD when it encircled the Mediterranean Sea. Credited with countless inventions, developments, and forms of government, the Romans left their marks on the modern world that can be seen today. Food should not be left out of this discussion because the Romans loved their food and it was a very important aspect of their culture. The rich used food as a method of showing off their wealth and the lower classes also had a great love for food as well. Many of the culinary traditions that were such an influential aspect of the Roman culture are still alive today.

Here are some of the most prominent ways that the Romans influenced the food and dishes that we eat today.

Staples of modern Italian cuisine

During the Roman Empire era, nearly three-quarters of the daily calories came from a diet of grains, mostly wheat, and barley. Large quantities of these crops could easily be grown, harvested and milled into flour to be used for bread and other common food items.

One food item that was considered to be a native Roman food was pottage. This basic grain dish could be doctored up with chopped vegetables, various meats, cheese or herbs. Historians consider modern day polenta or risotto to resemble this ancient food dish. Residents of the city and some soldiers in the military preferred to consume their grains in the form of bread rather than the pottage that was found outside of the city limits.  

Barley was a very popular food item for the Roman athletes, namely gladiators. They were also called hordearii or “Barley men” and because of the high carbohydrate content, the gladiators could rapidly gain weight and maintain the ever-popular physique that the crowds loved.

Olive oil became extremely popular and common once the Roman emperors began to financially support olive tree plantations and the production of olive oil. When considered a vegetable, olives were the most commonly grown food in the Mediterranean during the Roman empire and is still extremely popular in the region today. Olive oil had a variety of uses by the Romans outside of the kitchen but when it came to their food, olive oil was extremely important. Used to fry foods, toppings for bread and a base for a variety delicious sauces, olive oil still holds one of the most important roles in modern day Italian cooking.

Apples, cherries, dates, plums, figs, grapes, peaches and pears were a common part of the Mediterranean food landscape and the Romans were known to love them. Cherries and grapes were used to make wine, the other fruits were often dried out to increase their storage life (made a special treat for soldiers).

Vegetables were often divided into two classes based on the social status structure of the Romans. Peasants and rural residents were dependent on three primary legumes: beans, lentils, and peas. A great source of protein, these vegetables were often added into their bread and grain dishes. For the affluent members of society, the vegetables that were available were a bit more exciting- asparagus, artichokes, beets, carrots, onions, pumpkins and cucumbers (just to name a few).

Don’t worry, meat was obviously an important part of the Roman diet but mainly reserved for the rich due to its price. Poultry and wild game (rabbit and boar) were very popular choices along with a variety of birds (geese, ducks, quails…). Fish was easy to come by due to the empire revolving around the Mediterranean Sea.

Clearly, this was just a brief overview of some of the most popular food items that the Romans enjoyed and made part of their culture. Nearly 2000 years later, these food items still hold a strong place in authentic Italian food and can be seen across the world in home kitchens and popular restaurants. To experience the foods that the Romans loved in traditional Italian cooking, visit Via Verdi, the best Italian in all of Miami. Focusing on the aspects that make Italian meals authentic, Chefs Fabrizio and Nicola Carro bring their family’s heritage and recipes from their hometown in Northern Italy to Miami. Visit https://viaverdimiami.com/restaurant-menu-miami/ to see their full menu.


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