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Roman Deli

ITALY | Wednesday, 12 August 2015 | Views [299]

Worm Cafe Menu

Worm Cafe Menu

Worms, mmmmm– worms. Have you ever eaten them? Neither have I, but I found a place that serves them. The only caveat is that you’d need a time machine.

Rome is a fascinating place if you love history and ruins. I happen to love both and was duly absorbed when I visited the famous city. One place that blew me away, maybe even more than the forum, was the ancient harbor city of Ostia Antica. Unlike most Roman ruins that show how the elite lived, Ostia Antica is a window into the life of the common man of two millennia ago.

Most ruins only have foundations to look at, but Ostia Antica remains a town in many places. There is an intact amphitheater that still puts on performances. You can stroll down avenues with tall buildings walling either side of the street sans rooftops. You can witness the plumbing of bathhouses, where slaves, hidden behind walls, walked on paddle-wheels to keep hot water flowing to patrons.  You can visit a grainary with hoof prints pounded into the floor created by mules that turned the mills to grind flower. And then there’s the restaurant I previously mentioned.

     The street leading up to the eatery is lined with two-story dwellings where business could be found on the ground level and the shop owner’s homes were located on the story above. The set up was like any mixed use building in a modern metropolis. Upon entering, a massive marble counter greeted guests and there was plenty of room for people to congregate and wait in line to submit their meal order. A torso-sized, smooth-sided stone vessel was attached to the counter to dispense wine to those who ordered it. A barrel-sized vessel was buried in the floor and served as a refrigerator.

A fresco was fastened to a brick wall displaying the menu of large dark paintings depicting a tray of fruits and vegetables, a bucket of eggs, and a gourd–vegetarian menu perhaps? Another menu offered a bowl of worms– Definitely the meat-lovers choice. Given the number of ships the town must have had, I was surprised I didn’t see a rat on the list. Since Rome was the largest international city of it’s time, words would not have sufficed. All a patron had to do was point to the type of meal they wanted and they could be understood. Want a bucket of quail-chicken-lizard eggs, whatever we can scrounge, with those worms? No problem, have it your way!

     Once a patron traded their hard-earned denarius for their meal they could walk toward the back and dine on a private outdoor patio that comfortably seated thirty, or on busier days, pack up to fifty. A fountain gurgled and begged guests to wash their hands and next to that a glistening basin invited them to bathe their feet. Nearby was a public toilet with sixteen stations to take care of more personal business. I marveled at how little had changed in the dining experience over the past two thousand years. As I admired the preservation of this ancient restaurant, I wondered if the Egyptians or the Babylonians had such establishments.

I pictured myself sweating after a long day in the scalding sun making bricks along the banks of the Nile in ancient Egypt. I stood in a shady cafe pointing to a grasshopper.

The manager frowned and shook his head. “Sorry no locust today.”

I understood his gestures, but not his Egyptian. I pointed to a frog.

More shaking of the head, “Sorry no toad today. No boils either. We run out after that Moses business.”

I pointed to a bushel of wheat.

His eyes lit up. “We have straw.” He handed me a boiled brick. “Chew the straw out of the brick. Long live Pharaoh!” 

Tags: deli, dining, egypt, italy, ostia antica, rome, slaves, worms


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