Dining in Republican and Imperial Rome

Food: A Cultural Culinary History—Episode 09

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In this episode we’re going to Ancient Rome, where we’ll delve into some intriguing contrasts in the dining habits of the ancient Romans. We’ll examine the simple food customs of republican Rome, and then trace the expanding empire and learn how exotic food became a status symbol. We’re going to read from an ancient Roman cookbook aimed at those eager to flaunt their wealth and then we’ll bear witness to the gastronomic decadence of the late empire.

Images for this Episode:

Culinary Activities for this Episode:

• Minutal of Apricots


This dish captures the wide range of flavors that were popular in ancient Rome—what we might call sweet and sour, though it is actually even more complex than that. The ingredients aren’t particularly rare or exotic, but the dish would have been considered very fashionable and elegant. Tracta are perhaps the ancestor of pasta, a kind of flat cracker that was crumbled into stews as a thickener. They are also called laganae, which is etymologically related to lasagna. Today, you can use plain crackers, crumbled up. For garum, you can use Southeast Asian fish sauce, such as nuoc mam or nam pla. For the raisin wine, Marsala is okay (or any sweet, fortified wine). To “temper” means to balance the flavors and consistency. Obviously, because there are no measurements, all of the ingredients should be added at your discretion.

Add in a pot oil, garum, wine, chopped scallions, cooked pork shoulder cut into cubes. When all is cooked pound pepper, cumin, dried mint, dill, and drizzle in honey, garum, raisin wine, vinegar, and a little pork broth, temper it, then add pitted fresh apricots, let it simmer until they are cooked through. Break up a tracta to thicken it, sprinkle with pepper and serve it up.

Suggested Reading:

Adamson and Segan, Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl: An Encyclopedia.

Aelius Lampridius, Studies in the Life of Heliogabalus.

Apicius, De re Coquinaria.

Bober, Art, Culture, and Cuisine: Ancient and Medieval Gastronomy.

Cato, On Farming.

Fass, Around the Roman Table: Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome.

Juvenal, Satires.

Martial, Epigrams.

Petronius, Satyricon.

Images courtesy of:

• Map of Rome: Shutterstock
• Cato: Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
• Farming on a Latifundia: Public Domain, via Wikimedia commons
• Carbonized bread: By User:Beatrice (Lavoro personale) CC BY-SA 2.0 it, via Wikimedia Commons
• Nuoc Mam: Shutterstock
• Amphorae for wine: By M.Dirgėla (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Triclinium: By Szilas (Own work photo by Szilas in the Aquincum Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Petronius: By P. Bodart (GoogleBooks) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

• Gliraria: By Marco Daniele (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons
• Frontispiece for De re coquinaria: By Bonho1962 (Own work) GFDL, via Wikimedia Commons
• Rooster: Shutterstock 

• Juvenal: By Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (Original: Nuremberg Chronicle) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
• Emperor Elagabalus: Cnyborg assumed (based on copyright claims). CC-BY-SA-3.0, via Wikimedia Commons