Fast Food In Ancient Rome

Fast food is not a new invention. It has been around for centuries, and Ancient Rome is no exception.

Ancient Roman fast food joints, i.e thermopolia – literally a place where hot stuff is sold -, catered for the urban poor who usually lacked their own kitchens. While some locales also operated small decorated dining areas, the primary function of the thermopolium was to sell take-out food. Compared to modern fast food chains, the food served in Rome was no doubt healthier, consisting most likely of meats and cheese, fish, lentils, nuts, garum – an Ancient Roman fish sauce – , and spiced wine. In contrast to modern diners they did not have drive-in for chariots, though that would have been a novel idea.

The wealthy upper classes generally disdained the thermopolia, and ancient sources report that emperors Caligula and Claudius took a stance against some of the vendors, by punishing those selling “hot water”.

Thermopolium at Ostia

Many thermopolia have survived in cities such as Ostia, Pompeii and Herculaneum. Pompeii alone had roughly 150 different thermopolia before the city was buried in lava after the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius.

More reading: A Taste of Ancient Rome – by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa

Categories: Roman Food