The first image that comes to mind whenever we associate the world of Rome with the kitchen it is sumptuousness. The traditional image of the orgies in which victuals were served such as flamenco tongues, camel pulps, dormouse fattened with chestnuts, wild boars stuffed with thrushes, etc., all of them watered with hot sauces, is common in writings by Petronio, Juvenal or Martial. But this was far from reality. It is true that Maecenas was the first to eat mule meat, or that the actor Farón, to entertain Emperor Aureliano, ate a suckling pig and a wild boar among other things. However, the origins of kitchen Latina were humble and austere.
Until the XNUMXnd century BC the kitchen Roman was based on staple foods: the pulmentum or millet porridge, barley or peas, sheep's milk cheese, boiled lamb meat, cabbage, beans, etc. Fruits also had an important place: apples, apricots imported from Armenia, melons brought from Persia, figs and dates. It was in the early XNUMXnd century BC when the Romans entered Asia Minor and discovered the refinement of the Greek courts of the East. From this moment, the preparation of meals, according to Tito Livio, became long and expensive. The services of the cooks, work previously carried out by slaves, began to be paid very expensive.
There are two writers who have left more and better evidence of food and culinary traditions in Roman times. In chronological order, Marco Gavio Apicio (Caius Apicius), born around 25 BC, author of the recipe book Of re coquería libri decem(The ten books of kitchen), was an obligatory reference for several centuries. The titles, written in Greek, of the ten books of Apicius, are as follows:
- Epimeles. Culinary rules, home remedies, spices.
- Artopus. Stews, minced, etc.
- Cepuros. Herbs that are used for cooking.
- Pandecter. Overview.
- Osprion. Of the vegetables.
- Tropherter. Of the birds.
- Polyteles. Excesses and delicacies.
- Tetrapus. Of the quadrupeds.
- Thalassa. From sea.
- Halieus vel halieuticon. Of fish and its varieties.
Apicius was regarded as a refined connoisseur and also as a great wasteful man. He was noted for his extravagances and for his expensive tastes. Apparently, he invented a procedure to bait trout with dried figs, in order to fatten his liver; as well as recipes for flamenco or nightingale, bristle nipples and many cakes and sauces. Athenaeum relates that he chartered a ship to check if Libya's shrimp were as big as it was said to be. Disappointed, not even below ground. He spent his entire fortune on sumptuous banquets until a day when, counting what he had left, he preferred to poison himself rather than reduce his train of life.
Although it has been considered the first computer in the kitchen Roman, had precedents in Rome itself, such as Ambivio and Macio. The ten books Of re co-machinery that have come to us with his name are, without a doubt, a reworking of his work carried out in the XNUMXth century AD, written in a very incorrect way and close to the spoken language.
The next point of reference for Roman cuisine is Petronius, the so-called arbiter of elegance in Nero's time. his Satyricon It is the most objective embodiment of Roman life at that time. It is the narration, made by a dissolute man named Encolpo, of his wanderings in the company of two men as unscrupulous as he. The scene that has been preserved for us takes place in several cities in southern Italy. The most important episode broadly describes a ridiculous feast at the home of a very rich freedman, Trimalción.
This novel has served so that we know exactly how a table was arranged and what was the ritual and the parts of a typical Roman banquet. The triclinium or dining room is of paramount importance in the Satyricon. It was a room with three beds, around a table from which everyone served. Diners leaned on the left arm and ate with bare feet. In each of the beds three people were installed in their respective places from right to left: upper, middle and lower beds.
Roman houses had at least two triclinium, summer and winter, depending on the direction of the sun. In the house of Trimalción there are several triclinium.
The dinner of Trimalción happens to be an example of the classic Roman dinners. Occupies in the Satyricon a great extension. Dinner opens with the ablution of the hands after leaving the bath in the hot springs. Next comes the gustatio or appetizer entrance. The dinner itself, summa dinnerIt consisted of four dishes or services, and was watered with abundant wine. It ended with the second message or dessert, consisting of dry seasoned delicacies to favor the drink, which in the end was very copious. It should be noted that the Romans drank pure wine merum, mixed with hot water and spices. Pure wine without mixing, they reserved it for religious libations.
The Roman dinner unfolds within a label made up of timeless customs, such as meditating on death, offering gifts and small sums of money, libations to the Lares gods, etc. Desserts discussed philosophical or literary themes and recited verses. The guests perfumed and crowned themselves with flowers, and they sang.
To get an idea of the cult of exotic food, we should highlight a quote from the Satyricon which alludes to the appearance, at a given moment of the banquet, of a fountain with the twelve signs of the Zodiac arranged around it. The cook had placed a small delicacy on each of them: “… On Aries, chickpeas that resemble the ram; on Taurus, a piece of ox; on Gemini, baby leaves and kidneys; on Cancer, a crown; about Leo, a prickly pear; on virgo, a young sow vulva; on Libra, a scale on one of whose plates was a tart and a cake on the other; on Scorpio, a marine minnow; on Sagittarius, a snail; on Capricorn, a sea lobster: on Aquarius, a mallard; above Pisces, two mujoles. The center was covered with grass, on whose grass was a honeycomb ..."
As we can see, much of the current Mediterranean culinary culture has its origins in the ancient Roman Empire.
- Petronius. Satyricon. Madrid: Edaf, 2000
- Apicius. Gastronomy in ancient imperial Rome. San Sebastián: R&B, 1995
- Apicius. Of Re Cowagen. Madrid: Colloquium, 1988
- Cabrero, Javier. Food in Ancient Rome. History 16, 1998, 22 (263), pp. 94-99
- France Somalo, Rosa et al. Translation Notes to Petronius's "Banquet of Trimaltion". Analecta Malacitana, 1995, 18 (1), pp. 91-104
- Gómez Pallares, Joan. Ubi coquus? Ibi morbus? The reception and digestion of Roman cuisine in Catalonia. Annals de l'Institut d'Estudis Gironins, 1990-1991, 31, pp. 257-266
- Garcia Gual, Carlos. Profile of a lavish billionaire: Gaius Pompey Trimalción. Magazine of Economics, 1990, 7, 113-118
Article published by: Txus López Navarro