“The 2,000-year-old Thermopolium in Pompeii will reopen

A place that sold street food buried under volcanic deposits in Pompeii for nearly 2,000 years is reopening. Starting this week, the newly discovered “thermopolium,” an older version of the Italian “tavole calde,” will reopen in Pompeii to sell “hot food” to history-hungry tourists.

The inhabitants of ancient Pompeii were very industrious, and ready-to-eat hot meals were very popular among the working class who could not afford their own kitchens. An ancient version of the Italian tavole calde was called “thermopolia,” and more than 80 of them have been found in the ruins of Pompeii. Pompeii Archaeological Park called the thermopolium, which will be unveiled this week, “a kind of ancient ‘fast food’ counter.”

The L-shaped thermopolium was discovered in March 2019 on the Regio V site at the corner of Balcony Alley and Silver Wedding Alley. Well-preserved colorful murals depicting two hanging ducks, a rooster, and a dog on a leash were discovered. Moreover, there was graffiti above the image of the dog, which is a “homophobic insult.”

Excavations in 2020 uncovered other elaborately decorated elements of this ancient dining room. Archaeologists found vases with remnants of dishes that Pompeii’s inhabitants consumed outside. The remains of two men and a dog were also found at this particular site.

It is suggested that one of them, about 50 years old, who was found on a bed in the back of the room, “may have been crushed to death by the collapse of the attic roof.” The remains of a second man were found in a vase, and it is suggested that he had run in after a volcanic explosion in search of food, and that his remains may have been placed in the vase by excavators from the 17th century AD.

The nearly intact thermopolium, found in March 2020, was an ancient food store “that sold fine street food, with dishes of all kinds, including a kind of mixed paella including mammals, birds, fish and snails.”

Soon the “reopened” Pompeii shop will be selling this mixed-meat dish to tourists, most of whom will turn their noses up at the average Pompeii resident’s preference for street food.

By today’s standards, the ancient inhabitants of Pompeii and, by extension, much of Roman Italy ate very ordinary meals. For example, carbohydrate and caloric bread breakfasts, which sometimes included something like wheat pancakes baked with dates and honey. Then, around noon, they ate a light meal of fish and cold meat with bread and vegetables, and most often this meal consisted of leftovers from the previous dinner.

Cold cuts of meat also played a central role in the diet of ancient Pompeii. Consuming a plate of calories and carbohydrates and going back to work on the farm or boarding a fishing boat was a reality in ancient Pompeii.

Whereas today, sitting around all day drinking wine until it’s time for dinner and then starting all over again the next day is considered a common way of life for Italians on weekends and vacations. For this reason, it is not uncommon for tourists in Italy to walk several miles a day, yet return from vacation 1.4 kilograms heavier.

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