20 March 2010

Pompeii Fast Food Joint To Re-open After Two Thousand Year Hiatus

In just about the longest refurbishment period in history, the Pompeii based snack bar owned by Vetutius Placidus is to re-open.  Its last customers left in something of a hurry one thousand nine hundred and twenty one years ago but the high profile launch tomorrow promises to be something of a more unhurried affair.

Three hundred specially invited guests are to taste the delights of Roman fast food in the thermopolium (that’s snack bar to you and me) in a special ceremony to mark the reopening of the joint, which has been closed to the general public for quite a number of years.  Now after a long period of excavation and preservation, visitors  will be able to once more taste the house specialty – baked cheese with lashings of honey.

The snack bar will re-open at an unveiling ceremony on 21 March 2010 and will re-open to the general public several weeks later. The thermopolia were a standard feature of life in Pompeii – and indeed around the Roman Empire.  There were over one hundred and twenty in the town, before it was enveloped by about sixty feet of pumice and ash and were remarkably similar to our own fast food joints of today.  With one exception – most of the food was delicious and healthy.  With the exception of the sweet deserts most of the food sold here would have been downright good for you – something that our modern day chains could learn from perhaps?

The thermopolia were so popular, in fact, that many of the houses in Pompeii lacked one room that we take for granted – a kitchen.  The food was so cheap and available that it is thought that most Pompeians simply didn’t bother including a kitchen in their homes.  Plus there is the fact that eating out was one of the most important social activities in Pompeii.

The shops were typically fairly small with large L shaped counters – just like shops today in fact that serve the same purpose.  In to these counters large vessels would be sunk, that would then be used to contain the hot or cold pre-prepared food.  The customers would take their food and pay for it at the counter.  They could choose to eat it on the hoof or to eat it in the dining area – the triclinium.  These rooms would be decorated with gorgeous frescos – such as this scene from the tragedy Andromache by Euripides.

 For those not in a hurry the triclinium offered a place to relax and chat with friends while the food was consumed.  Below is a reproduction of how a triclinium would have typically looked. Perhaps a note to McDonalds or KFC could lead to the introduction of seating like this in their establishments?

However, as the thermopolia were used mostly by the less well off, the richer classes would often scorn these places as just a little too down market.

There was even an area called a viridarium, which was an enclosed garden, in which the customers could enjoy their lunch or dinner.  Vetutius Placidus left a jar of coins with the last few day’s takings at the site.  It can only be hoped that his newest customers spare him the occasional thought as they tuck in to their food.

First Image Credit