Fast food is inescapable in the modern age. Even healthy-minded people get bogged down in busy schedules and have to resort to binging on fast, convenient, and cheap food. In America alone, there are over 50,000 fast food restaurants, and in the world, there’s over 500,000. The golden arches of McDonald’s have come to represent American business across the globe, and for most people, there is little doubt that the Americans came up with the concept of fast food. Fast food and the modern era seem to go hand-in-hand, but fast food actually has ancient roots that go back millennia to ancient Rome.
Pompeii, an ancient Roman city near modern-day Naples, was destroyed in AD 79 by a catastrophic volcanic explosion. The horrific explosion that destroyed Pompeii also coated the city in layers of volcanic ash, which has had the amazing effect of preserving the town and giving archaeologists a glimpse into the past. Among many discoveries found at the site, they also gleaned some understanding of the how ancient residents ate food, and surprisingly, they loved fast food. The city had restaurants that opened onto the street and were full of stone wells. The theory goes that these ancient wells stored, and kept hot, a number of dishes. Residents of Pompeii could go to one of these establishments and grab a quick meal to either eat at simple tables outside of the restaurant or take the food back home to their waiting families. Sound familiar? In fact, this style of food distribution could be found throughout the entire Roman Empire. It seems that the Americans just modernized an ancient tradition; it’s not like the Roman were selling hamburgers, right? Well, actually…
The ancient Romans also invented hamburgers, and sure enough, used their fast food restaurants to feed these delicious meals to the masses. The Apicius, an ancient Roman cookbook that was compiled during either the 4th or 5th century AD, gives a huge amount of information as to what the ancient Romans ate, and sure enough, a recipe for hamburgers resides in this ancient tome. Known as Isicia Omentata, the ancient Roman recipe calls for mixing minced meat with pepper, pine nuts, wine and a rich fish sauce known as Garum. The mixture would then be formed into patties, roasted over a fire, and served on bread. The similarities between Isicia Omentata and a regular, modern hamburger, are strikingly similar; all that’s missing is a side of fries and a coke.
What’s amazing about food, even fast food, is that it ties the modern to the ancient. In a world full of technological marvels, it is hard to relate to the ancient past. To understand what their day-to-day lives would have been. Food ties us to our past, reminds us that we’re all the same despite millennia separating us. So next time you’re at a fast food joint, ordering a burger, remember that there were countless ancient Romans who did the exact same thing.