Fast Food In The Ancient Roman World
A fast food place (known as a thermopolium) uncovered at Pompeii, Italy gives us a glimpse of everyday life in the Ancient Roman world.
Thermopolia were quite common in Roman towns and cities. There are over 80 in the ruins of Pompeii alone. They were places where people could stop by to get hot food and drink. While some thermopolia had a room in back for people to dine in, many did not. So it appears that these places were often used as take out.
This particular thermopolium has the typical counter whose top contains a row of sizable holes. These holes are the tops of embedded jars called dolia. Since the dolia were built in, they probably held dried foods such as nuts because cleaning them out would have been clearly problematic otherwise.
Thermopolia served a variety of things such as wine, meats, cheeses, fish, lentils, and nuts. A sauce made of fish guts called garum would have often been involved since it was commonly used back then, similar to how something like ketchup is today.
While the wealthy may have gone to Thermopolia on occasion, it was probably ordinary people on the lower end of the financial spectrum who frequented these establishments the most because the majority of lower or middle class Romans who were in towns and cities lived in apartment buildings called insulae. The apartments (especially those for the poor) were often small, cramped, and without a private kitchen. As a result, the lower classes would often frequent thermopolia for prepared meals.
Decorations in thermopolia varied. For some, they would have been quite simple while others more elaborate. This particular thermopolium has multiple frescoes whose subjects include one with two mallard ducks, one of a rooster, and another of a mythological figure. A fresco of a dog was discovered which is unique in that a person(s) of the time had scratched some graffiti along its edge insulting someone, possibly the proprietor of the establishment.
While there are certainly major differences between our time and the ancient Roman world, there are similarities too. They were human beings trying to live their lives.
Check out the links below for more information and photos, including about the thermopolium discussed in this piece.