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6 Examples of Early Fast Food From Ancient History

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Fast food is often derided as a modern scourge, one that has made us fatter and ruined family dinners everywhere. But fast food isn’t an American invention. It’s been around since ancient times. Here are six ways people have satisfied their needs for greasy to-go fare throughout history: 

1. Pompeiian takeout 

The residents of ancient Pompeii did not like to cook, as archeologists discovered when they began to excavate the famously preserved city, which was covered in ash during the 79 CE eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Barely anyone had a home kitchen. Instead, residents of Pompeii (except for the wealthy) ate on the go, at cook shops that functioned kind of like ancient takeout restaurants. These “popinae” had masonry counters inset with cooking pots, and customers might have selected their choice of porridge, ham, stew, and other culinary delights. The walls were often painted with frescos bearing images of the available food items. 

2. Mesopotamian McDonalds

Godin Tepe, an archeological site in western Iran that was inhabited by humans as far back as 5000 BCE, features evidence of takeout windows. A few years ago, archaeologists discovered that some of the buildings in the ancient Mesopotamian town had windows, an unusual feature for the time, around 3200 BCE. The building they excavated contained a fireplace, food remains, and a lot of bowls—indicating that it might have been a takeout joint. 

3. The Roman hamburger

A recipe from Roman times by an unknown author, included in Apicius (a cookbook published in the 4th or 5th century CE), features a dish, Isicia Omentata, that’s fairly similar to the modern hamburger. It was a patty made of minced meat mixed with pepper, wine, pine nuts, and a sauce. They probably didn’t have the option to super-size that, though. 

Modern Roman fast food. Image Credit: iStock

4. Odysseus and the hot dog

The American incarnation of the hot dog didn’t come onto the culinary scene until the 1800s (and the term itself might not have appeared until 1891), but sausages have been referenced in some of our oldest texts. In The Odyssey, for instance, Homer compares a sleepless Odysseus to a sausage rolling around before a fire. There are several variations of the translation, but in one, the passage describes the warrior’s tossing and turning as being like “when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted.”

5. Chinese restaurant culture

In 1200 CE, Chinese peasants enjoyed blood soup, which was both sold at cheap restaurants and featured in upscale banquets. In big cities, vendors sold this and other hot food out of cauldrons and baskets in storefronts that catered to people who worked until late at night. Public restaurants, a fairly rare feature of the ancient world, catered to both the wealthy and the poor, and most restaurants were open late (just like your neighborhood Burger King). In fact, Hangzhou, China may have been the site of the first real restaurant, where diners could order food directly from a menu instead of taking whatever was available for the day. 

6. Endless tamales

Father Bernardino de Sahagun, a priest who served as a missionary and ethnographer during the initial Spanish conquest of Mexico in the 1500s, described visiting Aztec street markets that sold hot sauce and tamales of near-infinite varieties—filled with meat, fish, frog, mushroom, rabbit, and more. Centuries later, in the 1890s, tamale carts would become L.A.’s first blockbuster street food

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For the First Time in 40 Years, Rome's Colosseum Will Open Its Top Floor to the Public
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The Colosseum’s nosebleed seats likely didn’t provide plebeians with great views of gladiatorial contests and other garish spectacles. But starting in November, they’ll give modern-day tourists a bird's-eye look at one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, according to The Telegraph.

The tiered amphitheater’s fifth and final level will be opened up to visitors for the first time in several decades, following a multi-year effort to clean, strengthen, and restore the crumbling attraction. Tour guides will lead groups of up to 25 people to the stadium’s far-flung reaches, and through a connecting corridor that’s never been opened to the public. (It contains the vestiges of six Roman toilets, according to The Local.) At the summit, which hovers around 130 feet above the gladiator pit below, tourists will get a rare glimpse at the stadium’s sloping galleries, and of the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.

In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s best seats were marble benches that lined the amphitheater’s bottom level. These were reserved for senators, emperors, and other important parties. Imperial functionaries occupied the second level, followed by middle-class spectators, who sat behind them. Traders, merchants, and shopkeepers enjoyed the show from the fourth row, and the very top reaches were left to commoners, who had to clamber over steep stairs and through dark tunnels to reach their sky-high perches.

Beginning November 1, 2017, visitors will be able to book guided trips to the Colosseum’s top levels. Reservations are required, and the tour will cost around $11, on top of the normal $14 admission cost. (Gladiator fights, thankfully, are not included.)

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Archaeologists Discover Ancient Sunken City in the Mediterranean
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Courtesy of the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari

Early on July 21, 365 CE, an 8.5 magnitude earthquake shook the eastern Mediterranean, triggering a powerful tsunami. The Egyptian city of Alexandria was damaged, towns crumbled on the island of Crete, and the Roman port city of Neapolis, located on the coast of North Africa, was largely swallowed by the wave, according to historical records. Now, after being hidden under water for more than 16 centuries, the remains of Neapolis have been discovered by archaeologists off the coast of northeast Tunisia. This, according to the AFP, confirms accounts that the city was a casualty of the ancient natural disaster.

Following several years of exploration, researchers from the Tunisian National Heritage Institute and the University of Sassari in Italy have discovered nearly 50 acres of watery ruins near the modern-day city of Nabeul. They include streets, monuments, homes, mosaics, and around 100 tanks used to make garum, a fish-based sauce that was so popular in ancient Rome and Greece that it's been likened to ketchup. 

These containers suggest that Neapolis was likely a major producer of garum, making the salty condiment an integral part of the city's economy. "Probably the notables of Neapolis owed their fortune to garum," expedition head Mounir Fantar told the AFP.

Neapolis ("new city" in Greek) was originally founded in the 5th century BCE. While it was an important Mediterranean hub, its name doesn't appear too often in ancient writings. According to The Independent, it may because the city sided with the ancient city-state of Carthage—founded in the 9th century BCE by a seafaring people known as the Phoenicians—in the last of a series of three wars, called the Punic Wars, against Rome.

The Third Punic War stretched from 149 to 146 BCE, and led to the burning of Carthage. (It was later rebuilt as a Roman city by Julius Caesar.) Neapolis may have been punished for its wayward allegiance, which may explain why it's rarely mentioned in historical accounts.

You can view a video of the city's ruins below.

[h/t AFP]

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