offer tastes of Pompeii
ROME - Sauces made from fermented
fish entrails. A quiche-like pastry shell filled with bay leaves and
ricotta cheese. For dessert, peaches with aromatic cumin and
Those tastes may not be for everyone's palate, but the
specialties of ancient Pompeii are being revived for a month at the
site of the ruins by a research project intended to give new
insights into how the Romans lived.
Pompeii's busiest restaurant was buried with the rest of the
prosperous city when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79. The eruption
killed thousands of people, but a 20-foot-deep cocoon of volcanic
ash kept the city almost intact, providing precious information on
domestic life in the ancient world.
Starting Thursday, visitors will do more than stroll around the
restaurant's tables and gaze at the kitchen tools that have stayed
where residents left them when they were surprised by the
Researchers have tried to revive the city's food by replanting -
in the restaurant's garden and in other open spaces - the fruits and
vegetables that were part of the Roman diet: figs and olives, plums
and grapes, as well as poppy, broom (a flowery bush), bramble (a
prickly shrub), and mallow (an herb).
Kits with the ingredients will be sold to visitors in the area
around the restaurant with instructions on how to cook Roman
specialties. Although there will be no cooking on the site, visitors
will be directed to a local restaurant where some of the ancient
specials will be offered.
"We wanted to learn what the inhabitants of Pompeii ate," said
Anna Maria Ciarallo, a biologist who heads the project for Pompeii's
archaeological office. "But we wanted a side of the project to
appeal directly to the public as well."
Some may keep away from "garum," a pungent sauce used for
flavoring and obtained by fermenting fish entrails, but Ciarallo
said many Roman dishes closely resembled modern cuisine.
The recipe to make prosciutto ham has remained unchanged, while
"savillum," the favorite dessert of many Romans, was a baked cream
similar to today's custard, she said.
Pompeii's wealthy were known to feast on such exotic dishes as
swallow's tongue and parrot meat, but the project is presenting more
everyday fare, Ciarallo said.
The restaurant was located between the gymnasium, the
amphitheater and one of the city's gates and mostly catered to
middle-class merchants and travelers, she said.
Its six benches were probably always filled with hungry customers
passing through the busy neighborhood, she said. The guests would
recline on one side on the benches, as eating customs demanded at
the time, to chat, play dice - one of the Romans' favorite pastimes
- and partake of the dishes served out of large pots. The
quiche-like "libum" is made with bread, bay leaves and cheese
resembling today's ricotta.
"It was a sweet and sour cuisine, which blended the sharp tastes
of vinegar and spices with the sugars of honey and figs," Ciarallo
said. Cereals and beans were the staples of the Roman diet, together
with fish, cheese and limited quantities of eggs and meat.
"The main differences were between the social classes," she
Slaves were kept on a high-energy diet of bread, dried-fruits and
low quality cheese and wine. The upper classes enjoyed the same
foods available to the middle class, but the quantities were larger,
the ingredients finer, and the banquets were lavish
The project will shut down on June 26 because of lack of funds -
a perennial problem that keeps parts of the huge Pompeii site often
closed to the