Did Roman houses even have kitchens?
Poor Romans in the countryside most often lived with their whole family in one room of a small apartment building. So they didn’t have a separate kitchen. Instead, they cooked over a small fire or on a charcoal brazier, either in the courtyard or in their room (if it was raining or very cold).
What is a brazier?
What is charcoal?
What about apartments?
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Poor Romans who lived in the city generally didn’t have a courtyard, so they cooked on the brazier in their room, or they bought food in restaurants or from street vendors, already cooked, the way a lot of people do today. They got bread and cheese, or flatbread with cheese and vegetables melted on top like today’s pizza (but without the tomato sauce). Or they bought meat pies.
Well, but rich people had kitchens
Rich people had kitchens in their houses, but they didn’t go cook in them themselves – they made the people they had enslaved cook dinner for them. Because of this, Roman kitchens were generally small and crowded, and not very nice, and in the back of the house where nobody would see them.
Roman kitchen equipment
These kitchens had built-in clay ovens, with a sort of burner on top like our stoves, only heated by a charcoal fire inside them. And they had wooden cupboards, like ours, to keep the dishes and food in. They had pot racks for the pots and pans.
What sort of cooking did Romans do?
They made a lot of stews and soups, in pottery casseroles or in iron kettles. The iron ones were more expensive, but they heated up faster and saved fuel. They also boiled water to make hard-boiled eggs, and to make herbal teas. In the same casseroles, they could cook down fruits to make jams and syrups. Roman kitchens always had frying pans, too, to make fried eggs, or pancakes, or bacon and sausages. (Or all four!)
Probably most families didn’t do much baking. They bought bread in the market, the way your family probably does. And they also bought fermented fish sauce to use as a condiment, like ketchup. They bought mustard, just like we do.
Ancient Roman Homes, by Brian Williams (2002). Easy reading.
A Roman Villa: Inside Story, by Jacqueline Morley (American edition 1992). For kids, with lots of pictures.
Ancient Rome (Eyewitness Books), by Simon James (2004). Also for kids, with lots of great photographs.
The Roman Banquet : Images of Conviviality, by Katherine Dunbabin (2004). By a specialist, for interested adults. What Roman dinner parties were like, and how they were different from Greek ones.
Houses and Society in Pompeii and Herculaneum, by Andrew Wallace-Hadrill (1996). By a leading expert in ancient architecture.