|Reproduction of a small triclinium; Source: Wiki Commons|
The customary dining-room setup in ancient Rome was the triclinium, communal benches or couches arranged in a three-sided bracket around an open center. Diners sat on cushions and leaned back on one elbow while eating; each person might have their own table, or there could be several mid-size tables or one low platform for everyone. (Conservative Romans might segregate men and women in separate dining rooms, but by the time of Augustus this convention was dying out.) A social banquet would begin just after the bath hour, around 5pm, so that guests would be freshly primped and have plenty of time to socialize after dinner while they enjoyed their mulled wine and digestives.
So what did they eat? As a wise man once said: there is too much, let me sum up. Starters might involve cheese, olives, eggs, mushrooms, sausages, and other finger foods; after that would come a selection of legumes, boiled or pickled vegetables, stewed greens, or salads (which were quite dense and mushy, not a side salad). The main course was where you brought out your big guns. The principal meat was pork, boiled or roasted and served with a dizzying array of sauces; and as for seafood, the Romans ate just about anything they could pull out of the ocean. They also ate poultry and fowl, game like deer and rabbits, and goats or sheep if they were plentiful (if not, they'd be saved for non-food purposes, which is why the Romans almost never ate beef). Bread was present throughout the meal, and all courses included a variety of condiments, the most popular being olive oil, vinegar, and the infamous fish sauce garum. Romans were enormously fond of sauces and seasonings, as well as chutneys, relishes, dips, and spreads. The beverage of choice was wine diluted with water or fruit juice; flavored wines were popular, as were mixed punches and herbal tisanes. Desserts were based on fruits, nuts, cheese, honey, and baked goods, all served with warm spiced wine.
|Historical reenactors stage a Roman banquet; |
Source: Wiki Commons