The eating habits of the Greeks and Romans differed from those common today. Men of the household often took the main meal of the
day at banquets and symposia in the homes of others. Rarely did they dine at home with their families, while women and children would dine
only in the most intimate of family circles.
Meat was eaten rarely, and then generally at religious festivals when animals were sacrificed to the gods and then roasted. A wide
variety of poultry, includ- ing fowl, duck, geese, quail, wild birds, partridges, and wood pigeons were, however, commonly consumed. Thrushes
were a particular favorite. An important Mediterranean staple then and now, is fish, which was plentiful. Seawater fish was preferred over
fresh water fish. Sardines and herrings were both plentiful and cheap. Fish were both salted and smoked, and were imported from places as far
away as Spain. Delicacies, which were obviously more expensive and consumed by those individuals who possessed more wealth, included
eels, fish sauces, caviar, oysters, and turtles.
Bread was also an important staple. The most common grains were wheat and barley, although wheat was preferred for bread. The poor
ate a barley cake called maza, which was a mix- ture moistened with water. Different flavors could be created with the addition of various
ingredients. Green vegetables, salads, asparagus, radishes, mushrooms, lentils, and peas were also consumed. Leguminous vegetables also
provided nourishing fare for the poor. Street cooks sold them at a low price, hot from the fire. Onions and garlic, eaten raw with bread, were
popular. Many spices were used as well, including not only the staple spices of salt, pepper, and vinegar, but also sesame, coriander, caraway
and mustard. And, of course, olive oil, still a main Mediterranean staple, was plentiful.
Second courses included cheese, fruits, and cakes. Honey was an important sweetener. Cakes were often an outlet for creativity, and
could be produced in the shapes of animals, human beings, and other objects. In his Satyricon, Petronius described a Roman banquet featuring
little cakes in the shape of piglets. Wine drinking during dinner was generally of a more moderate amount than the unrestrained drinking of the
symposium, mainly for the purpose of quenching thirst.
Cooking utensils could be made of terracotta or bronze, both of which could be heated to high temperatures. They were generally plain in
appearance. Many of the objects displayed here would have been used in wealthy homes, and feature fine workmanship and decorative