The Romans generally ate one main meal (the cena) a day, around sunset. Originally this was eaten around midday, preceded by a light meal, often just a piece of bread, early in the morning. This was called ientaculum (or breakfast). Supper or vesperna was a smaller meal in the evening. However, cena came to be taken later in the day, and eventually became the evening meal. Vesperna then disappeared and a light lunch, prandium, was introduced.
For the poor, most meals were cereal (porridge or bread) supplemented by meat and vegetables if available. For the more wealthy, the main meal was divided into three courses: gustatio or promulsis, prima mensa and secunda mensa. Gustatio was an appetizer, usually eggs, raw vegetables, fish or shellfish, prepared simply, eaten with mulsum (wine sweetened with honey). The main course (prima mensa) consisted of cooked vegetables and meat (fish, game, poultry, pork), served with wine. The secunda mensa was sweet course or dessert, consisting of fruit or sweet pastries.
Eating customs and manners: The Romans often ate sitting upright, but the wealthy reclined on couches, particularly when they were at dinner parties, and they would often dine outdoors in their gardens with the weather permitted. Cooking vessels were pottery and bronze, sometimes glass or pewter. Food was eaten with the fingers, though it was cut with knives, one for each person eating. Spoons could also be used, for eating liquid and eggs, and their pointed handles served as devices for extricating shellfish or snails from their shells.
What did they eat? Like today, Roman diet and customs depended on the standard of living and the region. Diet was based on corn, oil, and wine. Staples were cereals, mainly wheat, which was prepared either as porridge (puls) or later bread. Bread was eaten at most meals, and would be accompanied by sausage, domestic fowl, game, eggs, cheese, fish and shellfish. Fish and oysters were particularly popular. Pork was also available. Roman delicacies were snails and dormice. The Romans also liked pastries and tarts, sweetened with honey.
Vegetables, which formed an important part of the diet, included cabbage, parsnips, lettuce, asparagus, onions, garlic, radishes, lentil, beans and beets.
ANTIQUE ROMAN DISHES: Some dishes and recipes
THE OLDE COOKERY BOOK. Internet site with recipes pre1900.
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