Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Day (of Eating) in Pompeii

A Pompeiian Meal in 79 A.D.
A Garum
(Fish Sauce) Jug
with Petrified
Oyster Shells
and Peach Seed
       One thing that struck me most during my visit to A Day in Pompeii at the Cincinnati Museum Center was the similarities between our two cultures—2,000 years apart.  That was most readily seen when viewing the Food and Dining gallery in the exhibit.  One thinks of this culture as being ancient, yet they were almost as civilized as today with their culinary offerings.  They had three meals a day with breakfast and lunch mostly eaten on the run (sound familiar?) stopping en route to
their various duties at street vendors lining the city's forum.  Dinner was the main meal and prepared either at home (usually by slaves—thank goodness we've made some advancements), or picked up at a local thermopolium.

A Restored Thermopolium in Pompeill
Looks Much Like Our Fast-Food Restaurants
Take Out Terra Cotta Dishes
That's right—our Italian ancestors had their own version of fast-food restaurants with take out.  The big difference was their food was much fresher and healthier.  Beautifully decorated with frescoes, they were reasonably priced lending to their popularity.  Much like today, eating out was also a social event.

Plaster Copy of a Loaf of Bread
      Breakfast and lunch were fairly simple consisting of bread and cheese, or leftovers if you were dining at home.  The three course evening meal was more elaborate.  Starting with an appetizer of oysters or eggs (baked cheese with honey was another favorite), the main entrée followed with roasted meats or fish and vegetables, and finally dessert of either dried fruits with honey or a baked custard.  Fresh leavened bread was bought at local bakeries by the elite.  Flour was of such poor quality that the bread was quite hard and used mostly for dunking in wine, which was the preferred beverage at all meals, though sometimes diluted.

        Much of the population lived in small apartments with no kitchen.  Some homes were also without kitchens or had very limited ones.  With the temperate Italian weather, there were no fireplaces in their homes so they used braziers, a forerunner of the Weber grill.

The Brazier Grill
Although a little more classic and Romanesque in design (why isn't Frontgate using it as inspiration for an ultimate grill?), it was a means of preparing meats and fish while keeping the heat outside the house on hot days.  

A Typical Triclinium Reserved for Dining
A Serving Dish with Movable Handles
      Dinner was served in the home's formal triclinium (tri = three, cline = down) that would best be described as a combination of our dining and family rooms.  Casual in design, it boasted three chaise seating sofas and side tables for serving.  A perfect setting for grazing while watching TV.  I guess they actually conversed and admired their frescoes.  Who's the more civilized?

Pompeii Before Vesuvius Eruption
A Day in Pompeii continues through Aug. 12, 2012 at the Cincinnati Museum Center:
and at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science from Sept. 14, 2012 through January 13, 2013:

Sounds like there might have been some leftover scraps in the street for kitties!

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