Bon Appetit Wednesday! Fish, Chips and Pompeii’s Fast Food Thermopolia

fish and chips

Image courtesy of An Italian in My Kitchen

Nowadays fast food comes in all forms throughout the world.  A life on the go means quick fare at affordable prices. Whether hamburgers, tacos, satay, samosas, crepes or today’s recipe of fish and chips, fast food is ubiquitous.

Modern convenience? Not if you take a page from Roman culinary history.

Thermopolia (s., thermopolium) were eateries found aplenty in the Roman Empire. In fact, Pompeii boasted around 150 thermopolia. A thermopolium was an open air room with an L-shaped counter distinguished by large storage urns called dolia containing dry edibles such as nuts.  Each day the thermopolium featured different dishes available for purchase. People could select such standard victuals as “coarse bread with salty fish, baked cheese, lentils and spicy wine.”1 Other fare included pizza (tomatoes were not yet brought to Europe at the time) made of cheese and onions, soups, pickles, eggs and ham.2 A tempting array of palate pleasers no doubt. And like our 21st century fast food menus, thermopolia  meals were based on their convenience and simplicity. Customers knew what to expect and would merely point to the blue plate specials they wanted.

Thermopolia were frequented largely by the poorer populations who, unlike the wealthier residents, had no kitchen facilities in their homes. The word thermopolium comes from Greek and means literally “a place where (something) hot is sold.”3

Mary Beard is a classics professor at Cambridge University and author of the book The Fires of Vesuvius: Pompeii Lost and Found. Here’s how she describes the concept of take-out food in the city of Pompeii:

“The best way to escape a diet of bread, cheese and fruit, eaten in small lodgings over a shop or workshop, where there were limited or no facilities for cooking anything more interesting, was to eat out. Pompeii has long been thought of as a cheap café culture, with bars, taverns and thermopolia (as they are often called in modern guidebooks, though this was certainly not the standard ancient term) lining the streets, catching the passing trade—from visitors with time on their hands to local residents with nowhere nice of their own to be. In fact, the masonry counters facing the pavements, with large jars (dolia) set into them and display stands behind, are one of the most familiar elements of in the Pompeian street scene.”4

Fast food was big business in Pompeii. And while people came for the affordable, simple fare, a thermopolium also offered a convenient place to socialize and meet people. To hang out, Roman style. However, unlike our modern view of fast food havens as universally appealing, the wealthy in Pompeii thought thermopolia encouraged drunkenness and vagrancy. Indeed, some people reportedly inbibed so much they couldn’t return to their duties after lunch.5

Pompeii has been revealing its secrets since the first excavations started in 1748. Recently, archaeologists found an ornately frescoed thermopolium counter in Regio V, a 21.8-hectare (54-acre) site to the north of the archaeological park. The excavation is not open to the public yet. But according to the site’s outgoing superintendent Massimo Ossana, this has been an exciting discovery: “A thermopolium has been brought back to light, with its beautiful frescoed counter.” 6 As we see, even with the most common of places such as a thermopolium, Pompeii continues to be a trove of surprises of unquestionable beauty.

Since many people enjoy fish for Good Friday, we thought a quick and easy but nonetheless delicious recipe for fish and chips would be in order.  Italian style in honor of our Pompeii visit. And while we’re at it, may we add another interesting historical footnote? Fish and chips may have originated in Italy and been brought to England by Venetians. At least that’s the heretical view by some who want to stir the pot over this popular dish.

Who knew that our modern love of fast foods had antecedents so far back? Apparently, fast food on demand may be in our DNA.

Pompeii was destroyed in 79CE when Mount Etna erupted. Click here to see a spectacular animation of that day. 

Click here for some recipes based on thermopolia menus.

Click here for more pictures of frescoed thermapolia.

Italian Fresh Herb Baked Fish and Chips

Recipe courtesy of An Italian in My Kitchen

Prep Time: 10 mins

Cook Time: 30 mins

Total Time: 40 mins

Ingredients

  • 4 thick slices perch, halibut, cod or trout
  • 5 medium potatoes thinly sliced
  • Oregano to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped Italian parsley
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (more or less to taste)
  • 1 clove garlic minced

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. In a medium bowl soak potatoes in cold water for approximately 15-20 minutes, rinse and drain well and towel dry.  Place potatoes back in dried medium bowl.
  3. Drizzle a little olive oil on a non-stick cookie sheet, place fish filets on top, sprinkle with salt, oregano, parsley, rosemary and a little minced garlic.
  4. Toss potatoes with oregano, salt, rosemary, garlic and olive oil.
  5. Place potatoes on cookie sheet with the fish, and if desired, sprinkle with extra salt and oregano (and olive oil if needed).  Bake for approximately 30 minutes. (I raised the temperature to 425°F (225°C) for the last 5 minutes to brown a little more the potatoes.)  Serve Immediately.  Enjoy!

Nutrition

Calories: 429kcal | Carbohydrates: 33g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 15g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 153mg | Sodium: 132mg | Potassium: 1556mg | Fiber: 6g | Vitamin A: 1% | Vitamin C: 40.6% | Calcium: 21.6% | Iron: 56.8%

1 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/27/city-fast-food-bar-unearthed-in-pompeii-after-2000-years

2 https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/12/30/thermopolia-ancient-rome/

3 https://www.encyclo.co.uk/meaning-of-thermopolium

4https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/12/30/thermopolia-ancient-rome/

5https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/27/city-fast-food-bar-unearthed-in-pompeii-after-2000-years

6Ibid

Reimagining Extinction: Michael Wang and the Art of Resurrection

NASAAntiquityNOW examines the connections between ancient and modern times to demonstrate that the past is never really gone. In so many ways, we still draw from the wisdom of ancient peoples and times. Even when it comes to climate change.

As we have been hearing, the warnings are dire. The earth is warming at an increasing rate.  Although the planet has experienced natural weather fluctuations throughout its history, the current alarms are sounding more ominous.

NASA has collected a trove of information gathered from earth-orbiting satellites and other sources to offer scientists a comprehensive view of changing climate patterns, much of which has been caused by fossil fuels. And the evidence is compelling. According to NASA:

Ice cores drawn from Greenland, Antarctica, and tropical mountain glaciers show that the Earth’s climate responds to changes in greenhouse gas levels. Ancient evidence can also be found in tree rings, ocean sediments, coral reefs, and layers of sedimentary rocks. This ancient, or paleoclimate, evidence reveals that current warming is occurring roughly ten times faster than the average rate of ice-age-recovery warming.[1]

NASA explains that the current trend is significant since a greater than 95 percent probability attributes it to human activity since the mid-20th century at a rate “unprecedented over decades to millennia.”[2]

In the midst of the debates on what to do, what to regulate and how much of an impact all this data will have on life in the future, one artist is staking claim to his own representational view of our evolving world.

New York artist Michael Wang is fascinated by the interaction of the natural world, particularly the ancient one, with a modern industrial world seemingly bent on destruction. He imbues his art with the concepts of global systems that affect the natural world, including species distribution, climate change, resource allocation and the global economy. Two projects show his unique interpretation:

In Drowned World, which was exhibited at the 2018 European Contemporary Art Biennial’s Manifesta 12 in Palermo, Italy, Wang depicted the collision of the natural world that gives us sustenance and the industrial world that drives civilizations. In the installation visitors to Palermo’s botanical garden climbed steps to look over a wall into the remains of a coal-gas plant that once powered the city’s streetlamps. In that modern-day artifact Wang planted a forest of plants similar to those that grew 300 million years ago during the Carbonifera era, and which over time became coal and other fossil fuels. Araucarias trees, ferns, cycads and epiphytes thrived among rusted remnants of machinery and gas tanks. It was a juxtaposition of ancient, modern and ancient again, an intriguing synthesis of a lifecycle disrupted.[3]

In his art Wang questions what this disruption means to Earth’s future. When humans have wielded their influence with ever increasing consequences, how can the natural world coexist? “Climate change and ocean acidification modify the conditions for nearly all life on this planet. When the effects of human actions are nearly inescapable, what can we consider truly natural?”[4]

Click here to see pictures from the installation.

flower

franklinia alatamaha

In a city of quirks and marvels the rooftop garden of the Swiss Institute Contemporary Art Gallery in New York is unique in design and purpose. In rows of simple aluminum planters grow four different kinds of plants that are fragile vestiges of a verdant history going back millennia. Indeed, in one of the planters flourishes franklinia alatamaha, which is extinct in the wild (EW) as classified by The International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Nature’s orphans” and “homeless” is how Wang describes these plants because without human cultivation, they wouldn’t exist in nature. As discussed above, human disruption is once again a factor, an underlying thrust that repeats in Wang’s art. For example, ginkgo biloba, a hardy and popular contemporary tree, began dying off in the wild thousands of years ago in the mountains of central China. Most likely this was due to human hunters who killed the large animal that picked up and shed the seeds across the region. This annihilation of that animal species affected ginkgo propagation. Ironically, during this period people also grew to value the trees so much that they planted them at temples and in cemeteries. Thus, the trees we see today have all been cultivated by humans.

gingko leaves

Ancient fossilized gingko leaves U.Name.Me/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

“I wanted to trace the passage of these species from nature into culture,” Wang says. He questions how humans manipulate nature to the degree that we alter the natural order according to our own self-interests. “How can you cause the extinction of a species in one context while also allowing its propagation beyond what would be purely natural in another context?”[5]

Click here to see pictures from the installation.

Wang fuses his artistic vision with an awareness of ancient systems and an understanding of earth’s peril. His art forces us to consider the inevitable result of human folly, and exhorts us to find the collective will to prevail.

Wang’s other works include “Invasives,” the controlled release of invasive species, “Carbon Copies,” an exhibition linking the production of artworks to the release of greenhouse gases, “Rivals,” a series that connects the sale of artworks to corporate finance, and “Terroir,” monochrome paintings made from the ground bedrock of world cities.

[1] https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
[2] Ibid.
[3] http://www.fruitoftheforest.com/michael-wang-extinct-in-the-wild
[4] Ibid.
[5]https://www.nrdc.org/onearth/culture-clash-nature-and-civilization-face-art-michael-wang

Throwback Thursday! Preserving the Past with 3D Printing

3d printerA fascinating new article on The Conversation explores how advances in 3D printing are allowing us to protect and preserve our precious heritage in new and important ways.

“What is new about digitally-fabricated replicas is that they can be extremely accurate with regards to the shape of the original – the reproduction process uses, among other means, high-tech laser scanners. The power of digitally fabricated replicas also lies in their digital nature. This means they can easily be stored, edited and shared across the world.

People interested in cultural heritage can access these digital replicas, for example from museum websites, and print them at home or at a nearby Fablab on a desktop 3D printer. Most importantly, these digital representations can also be easily manipulated or customised to satisfy different audience requirements under different interpretation scenarios.” – The Conversation

bernard vcl

Bernard Means

AntiquityNOW has been privileged to work with a pioneer in this arena. Read our article, Saving the Past With 3D Printing: An Interview with Dr. Bernard Means, Director of the Virtual Curation Laboratory to learn more about the incredible ways Dr. Means is using this technology to save the past.

Throwback Thursday! T. Rex: Feathered and Fabulous

TRex American Museum of Natural HistoryThere is a new and exciting exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History and it will bring you face to face with the king of all dinosaurs, the T. Rex! But, you may be surprised to see feathers sprouting from the leathery hide of the toothy tyrannosaurus. The museum is displaying a brand new, full size model of the T. Rex, complete with feathers. You can read all about it in this article in the New York Times.

And for more information about feathered dinosaurs and the link between our modern day avian friends and those terrifying lizards from the past, check out our very first blog post, What’s That Baby T-Rex Doing in My Birdcage?.

Bon Appetit Wednesday! National Baking Month

It’s National Baking Month! This is the perfect time of year to enjoy a few of our delicious and ancient baked goods recipes. Red velvet cake and whoopee pies are yummy, but check out the recipes below to indulge in some sweet and educational baking fun!

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Um Ali

om_aliWe love Egyptian recipes! There are so many delicious ancient Egyptian foods, ingredients and dishes to explore and today we’re bringing you one more. Um Ali, also called Om Ali, is a sweet and creamy bread pudding dessert that has become a traditional modern Egyptian dessert. It brings so much joy to the palate, but it has a surprisingly dark history. It was actually created in the 13th century to celebrate the murder of Shajar al-Durr, a sultana. Click here to read the entire sordid affair.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be celebrating something so dark and dismal in order to enjoy this traditional sweet. It can be served cold or warm depending on the season and it’s made with ingredients you most likely have in your kitchen right now. For a fancier and more complex version, visit click here. Enjoy some Um Ali this holiday season!

p.s. Click here for a list of our other Egyptian recipe posts.

Um Ali

Ingredients

  • 1 package frozen puff pastry sheets, thawed
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 cup chopped hazelnuts
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 1 cup flaked coconut
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar, divided
  • 4 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9×13-inch baking dish.
  2. Place the pastry sheets in the baking dish and place the dish in the oven. Watch it closely. When the top layer turns crunchy and golden, remove it from the oven. Continue until all the sheets are cooked.
  3. Preheat the oven’s broiler.
  4. In a bowl, combine walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, raisins, coconut and 1/4 cup sugar. Break cooked pastry into pieces and stir into nut mixture. Spread mixture evenly in 9×13-inch dish.
  5. Bring milk and 1/2 cup sugar to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Pour over nut mixture.
  6. Beat the heavy cream with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Spread evenly over nut mixture in dish.
  7. Place dessert under oven broiler until top is golden brown, about 10 minutes. Serve hot.

 

Throwback Thursday! Rescuing Our Cultural Legacies

AN Forum

As news broke this week that Nimrud had been recaptured from ISIS, the world held its breath as the extent of the destruction began to be revealed. So much has been lost and though ISIS is being driven out of many of its strongholds, they continue to systematically destroy cultural heritage.

In this terrifying and heartbreaking time, we wanted to republish a previous blog post that highlights the good that is being done to protect the world’s cultural heritage every day. In the exclusive interview, James Blake Wiener, co-Founder and Communications Director at Ancient History Encyclopedia (AHE), speaks to Global Heritage Fund’s Executive Director Stefaan Poortman about the importance of cultural heritage and what the Global Heritage Fund has done to save the world’s cultural treasures.

AHE is a resource partner for AntiquityNOW’s The Slavery Project (TSP), a series of curricula for high school students looking at the long and inglorious history of slavery. This interview with Global Heritage Fund was published on Ancient History Encyclopedia’s website in August 2015. It is reprinted with permission of both parties.

Click here to read the full post and interview.

Submit Your Work!

The World is in our hands1Did you know you can submit your work, art, lesson plans, blog posts, research papers and more to AntiquityNOW for publication on our website? We love working with new writers, scholars exploring new topics, students discovering the ancient past or teachers eager to share their resources. Our goal is to foster excitement and curiosity about our shared history and how that history affects our past, present and future. We can only accomplish that goal with your help. Our past unites us and helps us to see that we are all connected. So join us by sharing your talents and passion for the ancient past. Click on Submit Work in our menu and let us know how you celebrate antiquity!

And visit our Today’s Muse, Science Fiction and Teacher-Submitted Curriculum sections to see examples of work already submitted by our viewers.

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Happy Halloween!

In this 1904 Halloween greeting card, divination is depicted: the young woman looking into a mirror in a darkened room hopes to catch a glimpse of her future husband.

In this 1904 Halloween greeting card, divination is depicted: the young woman looking into a mirror in a darkened room hopes to catch a glimpse of her future husband.

Halloween falls on a Monday this year, which means you can celebrate all weekend! We’re here to make sure your feasting and frivolity is not only fun and delicious, but also ties you back to your ancient past. Check out the links below to learn more about Halloween’s connections to antiquity and scroll down for some yummy ancient treats to make that will be sure to dazzle your trick or treaters! Continue reading

Bon Appetit Wednesday! Roman Seafood Fricassee for National Seafood Month

fresh-seafood-on-iceIt’s that time of year again! Not Halloween, although we’re pretty excited about that too. It’s National Seafood Month!

Check out our post from last year with all of our ancient seafood recipes and information about how seafood has sustained humanity for thousands of years around the globe: Bon Appetit Wednesday! National Seafood MonthOnce you’ve satisfied your curiosity, click here for an all new ancient recipe for Roman Seafood Fricassee. Bon Appetit!