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Where were history's first restaurants?

From history's earliest beginnings there were inns and rest stops that offered food to weary travelers and pilgrims. The food was indifferently prepared, and a good meal was one that didn't make you sick. (I suspect that in medieval times the inns along the pilgrimage route to Compostela in northeast Spain were places where pilgrims from all over Europe exchanged cooking tips with the host, and perhaps this was true of the hostelries in ancient times too, but if so there is no record of this.) But where were history's first restaurants to offer meals that compared to home cooking, meals that would make an ancient Chowhound happy?

My candidate for the first restaurants to do better were the public baths of Imperial Rome. These were grand affairs of porphyry and marble. Open to anyone (both sexes) who could pay 10¢ in present-day money, these offered far more than baths. Patrons could exercise in health clubs or get a massage, followed up by a warm or hot sauna, a hot bath, a cold dip and then a swim. Then on to various salons that offered music, philosophy or science lectures and classes, or places to meet, chat and flirt. There was a restaurant that offered dinner. My guess is that the food, so as not to be out of place in such an elegant establishment, would be very good indeed. So I think these were the first restaurants to offer gourmet repasts. Or did another civilization beat the Romans to it?

Note: some historians say the food at the baths was primarily sold by vendors. The vendor food was probably chow-worthy if not safe. (One kind of sausages often sold by vendors, botula, gave its name to food poisoning.) For more on vendor food at Roman baths, see http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lostempi... This link incorrectly refers to Apicius as a chef. He was a rich gourmet. He spent all his money on food and when he was down to his last $3 million he killed himself rather than live in what he considered poverty.

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  1. Standard food history says that the first true restaurants were started by newly-unemployed cooks following the French Revolution. There were laws prohibiting the selling of cooked meats to eat on the premises, probably to protect the monopoly of the charcutiers, and so the first restaurants offered soup (as a restorative, you see). The popularity of these establishments led to commercial pressure to allow complete meals to be served. Of course, this rather facile explanation ignores the existence of La Tour d'Argent, which was in existence a good 200 years before the Revolution and is still packing them in... however, I think that the bulk of the establishments catering to the public at large probably did come about as a direct result of all that cooking talent let loose.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Will Owen

      There were restaurants in the true sense of the word way way before the French Revolution, in the Middle East and certainly in China.

      1. re: PeterL

        Yup even in Western Europe... El Botin certainly qualifies as a modern restaurant... it has been open continuously since 1725 its such as Madrid institution that the even the artist Goya was associated with it... as in 1765 he worked as a dish washer there!


    2. Perhaps around 2650 BC from which there is evidence from wheat regarding regular trade between China and the middle-East (and thank you, PeterL).

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sam Fujisaka

        there were certainly inns for travellers then, but I'm looking more for restaurants that people might prefer to eating at home, not eat there because they were miles away from home. In T'ang Dynasty Changan (now Xi'an) there were stalls in the marketplace where you could get meals prepared in the style of Western Asia (and 1300 years later, their successors still serve similar food in the same place -- the Muslim quarter) I bet there were gourmet restaurants in Chang'an then too... but the Roman baths were 700 years older. 50 AD is the date to beat, unless I'm wrong about the food at the Roman baths.

        1. re: Brian S

          Brian, you know that I always enjoy your posts and this is no exception. Your distinction between inns and restaurants is a good one. I missed the importance of your basic question, "But where were history's first restaurants to offer meals that compared to home cooking, meals that would make an ancient Chowhound happy?"

          Of course, I (and I assume PL) was responding to what might otherwise be an overly Euro-centric discussion.

      2. As always, Brian, wonderful thinking...

        As far back as foodstuffs have been made in quantities more than what an individual household could consume, there have been trade and barter centers where food was consumed. Restaurants? Not exactly, but certainly feeding areas. There were large gathering halls where food was served, as Brian mentions.

        With mobility comes the need for sustenance away from home. With more travelers, more restaurants. The Inns/monasteries along the Campostela pilgrimage walk are certainly important, and it was there the philosophy of Hospitality as an outgrowth of spirituality was formalized: what are the specific things I can do as your host to make your stay as a guest comfortable and rejuvenating?

        At what point did the dining rooms of country inns become more than dining rooms, but restaurants, I'm not sure. But I do know that when the Model-T car became affordable and popular in the early 20th century in the US -- and lots of Americans hit the roads, the number of restaurants skyrocketed. A market was created.

        1. Interesting. But the Minoans have the Romans beat by at least a millenia. The earliest "restaurants" I know of were found in Akrotiri, the remains of the Minoan city being dug out from under tons of volcanic ash on the Greek island of Santorini (Thera). It was buried by a volcanic explosion purportedly ten times bigger than Krakatoa. It occurred in 1600BCE, and archaeologists have uncovered what are believed to be "walk up food stalls" with vending windows that open onto the street.

          I suspect that anyplace where "civilization" evolved, as opposed to "culture" in the anthropological/archeological sense, there were at the very least "fast food" vendors, and in all probability there were some forms of "restaurants" where one could eat without taking a room.

          I would be greatly surprised if something similar to the Minoan "restaurants" wasn't present for a millenia or two before. For example, the predynastic Egyptian city of Hierekonpolis (circa 3500BCE) a brewery with a manufacturing capacity to turn out and distribute 300 gallons of wheat beer a day has been unearthed. It's considered unlikely it was the only brewery in town. Where there's beer, can food be far away? The problem with "every day life" artifacts of ancient Egypt, and many other ancient civilizations, is that temples and monuments were made of stone, but everything else was made of mud, waddle and daub, and other "non-eternal" building materials, and you can only surmise so much from kitchen middens.

          An interesting thing about humans, individually or as a society, is that each successive generation thinks that all that came before it was primitive and substandard, and that the world was waiting for me/us to discover the "right" way to do things. My own personal guess is that cooking for barter came about shoulder to shoulder with flint napping! '-).

          5 Replies
          1. re: Caroline1

            Actually, the Minoans "have the Romans beat" by at least a MILLENIUM.


            1. re: Ted in Central NJ

              They also have them beat by at least a MILLENNIUM… ;;--))))

              1. re: DeppityDawg

                <sigh> Are you guys insinuating I need to go back to proof reading? '-)


                1. re: Caroline1

                  No. They are insinuating that I am the only one on CH, who actually remembers the Minoans. Nice folk, but their restaurants left a lot to be desired.


                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Oh, I don't know. They were the only restaurants in the ancient world that I know of that had flush toilets in their restrooms. That's gotta count for something! '-)

          2. So for a food-serving establishment to count as a restaurant, the food has to be good, is that (part of) the definition? I don't think food historians take the quality of the food into account at all. Instead, they look at more objective criteria. For example, the clientele: it shouldn't only be travellers and people stuck at the baths all day, but also local residents who leave the house specifically with the idea of going somewhere to eat a meal prepared by someone else, and pay for it. It should be a single establishment with one proprietor (i.e. the "food court" model with multiple vendors mentioned by several people already doesn't constitute a restaurant.) A single vendor selling something that's ready to eat and corresponds to a full meal, who appears in the same place every day, and who thinks of setting up some tables… this is getting pretty close. But there should also be an established menu with choices (not just "table d'hôte") and of course some system of pricing. Etc. etc.

            The definitions I've seen generally include a lot of modern concepts and so they presuppose a kind of society that didn't really exist until quite recently. And admittedly they sometimes seem to be formulated deliberately so that the first restaurants turn out to be Parisian, or in any case European (QED). But the Wikipedia article mentions restaurants corresponding to this kind of definition appearing already about 1000 years ago in China and in the Islamic world.


            6 Replies
            1. re: DeppityDawg

              Some descriptions of urban life, both in classical Rome, and cities like London, make it sound as though many lower income residents ate most of their meals at street stalls or taverns. If you were so poor that you could only afford to rent a room or bed, you wouldn't have cooking facilities. Out of concern over fire, some cities might even have prohibited cooking in lodgings.

              Does this qualify as restaurant eating? Without menus and choices, it probably does not.

              1. re: paulj

                I agree - such establishments would qualify more as for-profit soup kitchens, since the customers would be eating there from necessity rather than as a chosen alternative to a home meal. Regardless of the quality of the food, I believe that the proper criterion for determining what's a restaurant is that it be an open choice: "Gee, honey, do we want to eat in tonight or go to Marcellus's?" And I also believe that street food might come nearer to that definition than, say, a coaching inn, even though the inn's physical setup might more closely resemble that of a modern restaurant, with tables and table service.

                1. re: paulj

                  I don't know, there seem to be an awful lot of present day NYC residents who only eat out....

                  1. re: sebetti

                    lol-- we've come full circle, just with mcdonald's advertising and hcfs for the poor, personal chefs & personal trainers for the rich! ;-)

                    1. re: sebetti

                      By choice, though - that's the difference. Now, some people I've heard of in NY make the choice early on to force the issue, and either convert the kitchen to a kind of coffee/snack bar that you CAN'T cook in or choose an apartment that's already like that. But they have still CHOSEN to dine out for every meal...and they can do that because (ta-daaah!) there are plenty of restaurants.

                      1. re: Will Owen

                        Where are the people who enjoy a leisurely breakfast in robe and slippers! If I lived in NYC, I would open a breakfast restaurant and call it just that: "Robe and Slippers." And that would be the dress code!

                2. At least since the Republic (509 BCE - 29 BCE), the thermopolium was a kind of restaurant in ancient Rome where people could order premade meals and wine.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Reefmonkey

                    But I wonder how many permanent Roman residents did that. Remember, Rome had (and always has had) a tremendous transient population - merchants and traders, farmers selling their wares, petitioners before the courts or before the gods, travelling peddlers, musicians, magicians and mountebanks, runaway slaves looking for anonymity, hicks from the sticks trying to hit the big time...hey, just like New York!

                    1. re: Will Owen

                      I'm not sure what your point is. Go to Shinegawa in Tokyo, there are plenty of gaijin restaurants that Americans in Tokyo on business who don't like Japanese food go to - TGIFridays, etc. When I'm over there for a few weeks at a time, sometimes I go to those restaurants just because I'm a little homesick for American food. I rarely see locals in these restaurants. They are still restaurants, though, right? The OP was "what were the oldest restaurants", not "what were the oldest restaurants that catered to the local populations".

                      As far as permanent Roman residents who ate ate thermopolia, from what I learned of them when I took latin in high school, they were often frequented by locals. And by "Rome" I don't just mean the city itself, but the civilization. In pompeii I visited the well-preserved remains of a thermopolium. They were a quick place to get a bite to eat, mostly in the middle of the day when one didn't have time to go home.

                      I'd venture to say that in Sumeria, Babylonia, and Assyria, the large urban centers, anywhere with markets and trading centers had at least food stalls in the markets.

                  2. I've been doing more thinking... (Sorry ‘bout that.) You can play around with the definition of what comprises a "restaurant," but you'll be hard pressed to find true evidence because, as stated in my last post, not all buildings were built for the ages. Rome is a different matter, and stands alone, as far as I can recall at the moment, on having stone and/or plaster villas within the city. And I'm talking about the empire, not the city, though the city was certainly the example for the empire.

                    I don't think it's fair to assume that just because someone lived two, three, four or even ten thousand years ago, that they had insensitive taste buds. When philosophers set about trying to figure out what sets man apart from "the animals," I am always amused that none of them gets to the heart of the matter by simply stating, "We cook our food, and seek out variety and flavor." They do talk about man's "discovery" of fire, but always stop short of its year-round use for food preparation.

                    I doubt very much that the Roman baths are the first restaurants, even in Rome. If you go to that "parallel universe" of Greece, certainly some of the shops in or adjacent to the agora must have served food. Olympia, Greece, the site of the ancient Olympic games, was a "village" most of the year, but when the Olympic truce was declared, and the men began gathering for that major religious festival that we call the Olympic Games, there is scant room for doubt that "restaurants" in every sense of the word must have been part and parcel to the hubbub. Every Greek city-state had a "public table," which was not just a “soup kitchen.” It was a place where not only the poor could dine, but townspeople as well. Indeed, part of the prize to every Olympic champion was "trophy" in his home city. "Trophy" simply means "food" in Greek, and winning trophy in the ancient games meant the winner had a place at his home city’s public table for the rest of his life. Didn't mean he had to eat every meal there, but it was considered a handsome reward, much like a retirement fund or winning the lottery. A windfall. Well, a hard trained for windfall, sort of like winning a big social security check for the rest of your life, no matter how young you are.

                    I suspect that ANY large city of the ancient world on any continent must have had "restaurants, especially those large cities that were religious centers (and what large city wasn't?) because all religions in all civilizations had both long and short religious festivals, and people often went for a day. It's one thing to pack up elaborate tents and a small army of servants and slaves to go to a two week festival but quite another thing for a day or even two.

                    When I lived in Turkey, a bit more than a half century ago now, the most memorable restaurant I ever dined in was high up in the Taurus Mountains. It consisted of maybe a dozen wooden tables with chairs set up on well rounded rocks along the banks of the Gökoluk River. Every table had a white cloth with rocks at each corner to keep it from blowing away. The restaurateur set up shop in the same spot every year, spring to fall (as long as the high altitude weather allowed) and his menu was charcoal broiled chicken or lamb, a country salad, bread, and for dessert, the most amazing baklava I've ever had in my lifetime, and I've had a lot of baklava! Everyone in all of the cities and towns for hundreds of miles around knew that if it was summertime, the restaurant was there.

                    A not too distant climb up the slope on the opposite side of the road was an artesian fountain where the restaurateur drew his water for making coffee and tea or for drinking. It was a fascinating fountain. The artesian spring flowed out of the rocky side of the mountain. Beneath it were two large containers, one above the other. The top was about shoulder height intended for humans. The much larger container below it was to catch water for animals. The curious thing was that the spring no longer poured into the "people bowl,” but flowed directly into the animal bowl below. And in the rock, you could see where two thousand plus years of gravity and erosion had allowed the water to bypass the upper container. And I'm sure that in another 2,000 years it will miss the animal bowl and flow directly onto the ground. The site was the Ciliciian Gates. Until around 300BCE it had been a narrow pass that forced people to pass through single file. Alexander the Great fought a great battle there, but had to send much of his army on a long forced march to attack the enemy soldiers blocking the gate from the other side. Afterward he had his army carve into the mountain and make the "road" wide enough to allow chariots and horses and his army to pass through. The graffitti his soldiers left as their personal "Kilroy was here" marks are now high above the restaurant and river's shores today. But I suspect a restaurant has been in that spot since some of Alexander’s camp followers stayed behind to enter into a less nomadic enterprise.

                    I suspect the earliest restaurants were very much like that. Entrepreneurs who packed up a bunch of tables and chairs along with a big brazier and supply of food and went off to set up shop where every traveler knew they would be waiting for their business. For me, the food was simply amazing. And when I watch Anthony Bourdain or even Andrew Zimmern seek out “street food” today, I understand why. They are these ancient restaurants come to town. But one thing I feel certain about the ancients… Every entrepreneur, after seating customers, began with, "Today's special is..." In countless languages! '-)

                    38 Replies
                    1. re: Caroline1

                      Spot on... the oldest restaurants correspond to the oldest civilizations driven by both religion & source of production. There is no doubt in my mind that Babylon had what most of us would recognize as restaurants.... of course if you want the answer to be Paris, Madrid, London or New York then you can twist & tune the requirements all you want for that goal.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        I share your "suspicions" but somebody must _know_ whether there were restaurants at the Ancient Olympic Games, for example, if not through archaeological/pictorial evidence then through textual evidence (or lack thereof). What would be the word for "restaurant" in Ancient Greek? For Latin, I found "popina" (a cook-shop, victualling-house, eating-house), and "taberna" and "caupona", which are closer to 'inn' or actually any kind of retail shop. Anyway, if they had a word for it, it must have existed (unless they only used it in the future tense, as in "believe it or not, thousands of years from now, there will be victualling-houses on every corner"…)

                        And since this has somehow turned into a dead-languages vocabulary lesson… There is a word "trophê" in Greek that sounds like "trophy" in Modern Greek and means 'food', but that's not where our word "trophy" comes from. (That was a different word, "tropaion", derived from the word for "defeat".)

                        1. re: DeppityDawg


                          Greek is very much a "live" language. The difference between koine and demotic is the spelling and pronunciation, but the old koine is much easier to read, especially for someone who has any experience with college fraternities and sororities. When I lived in Greece, everyone I knew could read koine inscriptions and understand what they said.

                          There are lots of words in Greek for "eating places," and I seriously doubt koine is an exception to the demotic If you've ever been to Olympia, or studied the layout and ruins, you will know that the "sanctuary" is not large enough to come anywhere near handling the thousands who would have gathered for the games/religious festival every four years. But here's a photo of the main site where spectators did gather on the rolling "hills" surrounding the stadion: http://tinyurl.com/5q3nxk

                          There were little to no competitions held within the sanctuary itself, but the Temple of Zeus is located within the Sacred Grove (within the sanctuary) and athletes and their trainers took an oath there to compete fairly and without cheating. Their oaths (trainers and athletes alike) were sworn on raw liver. Without going into the minutia about how the competitions were held and judged, many of the competitions were held in the stadion, including chariot races. ALL of the competitors and spectators were male. Only ONE woman was allowed at the games, the priestess of Demeter, and there is a throne for her at the side of the stadion (On thge right in the photo, on the left in reality since it's a reversed photo). I spent a few lovely afternoons sitting in it myself. A cushion would have been welcome. The priestesses (successively) likely had them. All athletes competed nude. Any other women caught attempting to observe the games was stoned to death. Those surrounding hills were literally paved with spectators, much like the crowds at the Super /Bowl. And vendors, much like the Super Bowl.

                          Now, the point about restaurants and vendors. Those large rolling banks around the stadion are where the spectators gathered. Likely the trees in the photo above were not there, but other trees were likely in the area. The town of Olympia has either not survived or not been excavated, but it would have been of "non-eternal" materials, and Olympia was buried for centuries under the river's mud after it was diverted by an earthquake. But those banks are where literally thousands of specators gathered to watch the games. And got hungry.

                          Many attending the games would have brought their own tents for housing. Probably most. But the townspeople of Greece in all ages are creative, so I feel confident that there were souvlaki stands, probably not so very different than those street vendors and small shops you find all over Greece today, and in all likelihood, estiatoria (restaurants) and tavernas.

                          Certainly the town bakeries would have maximized their production and fired up every available oven to produce all the psomi (bread) they could bake. In her work, "The Complete Greek Cook Book," Theresa Karas Yianilos dedicates an entire chapter to "Reipces From Ancient Greece." They range from a reconstruction of one of Homer's favorite dishes, thrush (a bird), to a recipe from Archestratus' cookbook first published 330BCE, but by no means the earliest known Greek cook book.. The translation of his recipe is:

                          "Buy the best fish you can find, preferably from Byzantium. Sprinkle with margoram. Wrap fish in fig leaves. Bake. Have slaves serve it on silver platters.

                          Arechestratus was from Syracuse or Gela, and the fact that he could purchase fish caught by Byzantine (Istanbul) fisherman tells us that commerce was vigorous and not all foods were local. It's also fair to assume it was a rather large fish.

                          Now, the crowds at Olympia may well have brought well equipped "camp kitchens," with adequate staff, and probably feasted their friends. Competitors and athletes came from all over "the known world" to compete and watch. With the passage of time, even Roman emperors competed. Nero won the chariot race, but he cheated. But probably didn't have to because who would be stupid enough to beat him? I think he used something like ten horses. But I digress.

                          The games lasted all day long for several days initially and expanding with time. In the eaarliest games around 700BCE, if I recall correctly, they were strictly a few athletic events, with with time the competitions grew to include poetry, theater, and music. And I can asure you there is not room on the hillsides immediately surrounding the stadion and sanctuary to house all of the temporary dwellings and kitchens that crowded the area..

                          It's a lot of years since I was well versed in classical and ancient Greek customs and culture, but the only thing I can think of that was probably NOT available from food vendors and/or outdoor cafes in and around Olympia come game time are cotton candy, carbonated soft drinks, and French fries. Lo, they had to wait for the arrival of the potato from the new world! But the did eat well. They just didn't carve their menus in marble. Pity.

                          And FYI, according to my small dictionary in the back of my "Introduction to Greek" (koine) college textbook, "tropaion" absolutely does NOT mean defeat! It means "trophy" or "victory.". "Sitos," "sitou" and "sito" are also koine words for food. In his Anabasis, Xerxes uses the word "tropaion" to mean a monument or marker on a battle field put up on the point where an enemy turned and fled. But in the context of the Olympic games, "trophy" means a place at the victor's city table where he could take meals: "food for life. And I was taught that this was the derivation of the modern Greek (demotic) word for food.

                          Hope this helps. :-)

                          1. re: Caroline1

                            Wow...you are a wealth of information and stories. Loved reading this.

                            1. re: maria lorraine

                              Thank you, ML! It's great fun to share. :-)

                            2. re: Caroline1

                              "All athletes competed nude… Any other women caught attempting to observe the games was stoned to death… Their oaths were sworn on raw liver…" I enjoy your postings, too, Caroline1, but little details like this make me think that maybe it was in fact rather different from the Super Bowl… :-) More generally, as tempting and as natural as it is to do, projecting our 20th/21st century habits and expectations back thousands of years very likely results in an inaccurate picture of the society of that time.

                              I didn't say that "tropaion" meant 'defeat'! It is derived from "tropê", which as you said means 'turning (and fleeing)', corresponding either to victory or defeat depending on your point of view. I'm afraid the trophy-to-food derivation is unsound, however (despite the fact that it appears here and there on the Internet…) In her book about Greek food, for example, Susanna Hoffmann says that Olympic champions could win "hippotrophy" (supposedly meaning 'horse feed'). Hippotrophy is in fact the practice of raising horses; nobody wins this trophy. As I wrote above, Mod Gk "trofí" is the direct descendant of the ancient word "trophê" (food, rearing of animals), unrelated to "tropaion" (but instead related to the verb "trephô" meaning 'thicken, breed, maintain, nourish'). I know, it's not as good a story. This is why People Magazine's sexiest man of the year is never a classical philologist, alas.

                              1. re: DeppityDawg

                                "All athletes competed nude… Any other women caught attempting to observe the games was stoned to death… Their oaths were sworn on raw liver…" I enjoy your postings, too, Caroline1, but little details like this make me think that maybe it was in fact rather different from the Super Bowl… :-) More generally, as tempting and as natural as it is to do, projecting our 20th/21st century habits and expectations back thousands of years very likely results in an inaccurate picture of the society of that time.

                                DeppityDawg Oct 24, 2008 05:22PM

                                Mr. Dawg. My "little details like this" are historically accurate. Using something people are familiar with (the Super Bowl) as a frame of reference for something they may not be familiiar with (the Ancient Olympics) is a very valid tool. There is nothing in what I have written that is not broadly accepted in academic circles and well documented by archaeological evidence and historical records written in those times. If you are unfamiliar with them, that is not my responsibility, it is yours.

                                Now, maybe YOU would like to explain why you think a crowd ranging from hundreds in the earliest Olympics to thousands at their peak (786 BCE to 435 AD) would not have experienced hunger in the course of a specator's day the way that people do in 2008 AD?

                                And why do you think people in those long past times were too stupid to think of making some quick cash by tossing together a whole bunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (or their ancient equivalent) and hawking them to the hungry crowd?

                                It is those who falsley pride themselves with thinking we are so very special and superior to what the ancients knew and practiced that makes archaeology the difficult discipline that it is today. And it is why I am not a practicing archaeologist. In university, I just got tired of going up against the Luddites.

                                Free yourself. Open your mind. Stop penalizing yourself by thinking that just because you use mechanical horsepower to travel that those who used four legged horsepower could not think creatively. They're the guys on whose shoulders we stand!

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  I've heard that the hot dogs served at the earliest Olympics were no better than what we find at a Superbowl. Matter of fact, I think some of the ones served at that event in Arizona may have pre-dated the earliest Olympics.


                                  In all seriousness, thanks for the info. I appreciate you taking time to share, even if people, such as I, add a few non-informative comments. All in jest.



                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Thanks, Bill. You're very kind. It's probable that they did have something very similar to hot dogs at the ancient games. The great advantage over most of today's hot dogs is that they would have had natural casings! Or none at all. Ever had soutzoukakia, the Greek "sausage"? I'm not a great sports fan, but I'd endure a Super Bowl for a couple of hot dog buns stuffed with those puppies!

                                    1. re: Caroline1

                                      I have not. For hot-dogs, we're usually using beer-broiled, then char-grilled Johnsonville (or similar) brats.

                                      I'll keep my eyes open.

                                      Not, to the Olympic games. Is it known if these (and similar) were served from stalls, or from vendors amongst the crowds? Maybe also the first "Beerman?"

                                      Still, my stale jokes aside, this is a wonderfully interesting thread. Fodder for the "Food Network," along with "The Discovery Channel." Back when "TDC" was doing something besides Harley-Davidsons, they had a series, "The Spice of Life." It was a little bit dry, but traced various spices throughout history and around the globe. I'd speculate that this was in the late 80's, or early 90's, at about the time that they were first included by my cable provider. I expected to see it come back on "TFC." but so far, no luck, and no DVD's available at either's on-line store.

                                      OK, really drifting OT here - sorry.


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                                        hmmmm... You're asking a shaky memory some thirty plus years past her apex of knowledge on the matter! I don't know of any contemporary writings of the time that specifically spelled out how food was marketed. However, considering that wood rarely lasts several thousand years in any environment, and much of Olympia's ruins were buried under diverted river mud for a bunch of centuries as a result of an earthquae, no ancient food stands have survived.

                                        Based on the topography of Olympia (a natural amphitheater "in the round" with sloping spectator areas, with the only permanent seating comprised of seats on one side for the judges and a single seat on the other side for the priestess) the crowds would not likely have tolerated any of the grounds that were vantage points to watch the games to be used for food stands or anything else that might obstruct anyone's view.

                                        Because human beings are so universally human, my best guess would be that anyone who had a prime viewing spot would not want to lose it by wandering off in search of food. And it's likely that no one in the party would want to miss anything by seeking food for all, but it is highly possible that a slave could be sent. But it's improbably that everyone would have brought a slave to the games with them, much less brought them to actually view the contests, soooo... I would think food vendors would maximize their sales by setting up their stalls away from the crowds, then wander around hawking their wares. Probably using some sort of device such as a sling, a sack, a basket, a "neck tray" to maximize how much they could carry.

                                        One of the things that makes archaeology so interesting, even from an age when an abundance of the written word comes down to us, is that so much is taken for granted that no writer goes into detail about the mundane. How many novels have any of us read that detail a modern bathroom, or the configuration of a kitchen stove? As a result there is always a certain amount of "educated guessing" that goes on until enough evidence can be gathered to support the guess. But even with massive evidence, a theory can turn out to be wrong. Even then, some things remain a mystery. But despite all of that, I feel pretty confident that those attending the ancient Olympics got hungry and ate. I'm also confident that most of their food would still be considered delicious today. Well, except I refuse to eat tripe from any era! '-)

                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                          I believe that the plain around Olymipa and outside the stadium became a fairground with food stalls, among other things. I believe most spectators slept outside, with rich people erecting luxurious tents, and food vendors went from tent to tent.

                                      2. re: Caroline1

                                        About the hot dogs at the ancient games. Remember what I said above, that botulism is named after a Roman hot dog.

                                        1. re: Brian S

                                          Brian, you are now talking me out of hot dogs. Do you realize that? Caroline1 was about ot make a convert of me, but now, I'm not so sure.


                                        2. re: Caroline1

                                          Oooh, there used to be a little Greek restaurant in the Village that served them. Heaven on a plate. (Or in a pita, whatever).

                                          Ooops, this was supposed to be a reply to Caroline1's post above about soutzoukakia.

                                          1. re: Catskillgirl

                                            They're not that difficult to make, but admittedly taste better when someone else makes them for you. So many reasons to regret my daughter's growing up... She makes great soutzoukakia!

                                  2. re: Caroline1

                                    A lovely piece you wrote. I"ve read that there was a huge fair and bazaar spread out on the plain near Olympia for the games. Lively and chaotic, that fair was described by Menander as "crowds, market, acrobats, amusements, thieves" -- a lot like the Tulsa State Fair I visited a few weeks ago. Surely that market had food stalls. There were apparently thousands of vendors.

                                    Meanwhile, in Sparta, all men under 60 were required to eat every day in public dining halls where the food was, well, Spartan. (Deliberately so, to toughen them up.) How sad it would be if Sparta had the world's first restaurants!

                                    1. re: Brian S

                                      Thank you, Brian. Spartan "black soup" has to be disgusting by any standard. Only four ingredients: pork, salt, vinegar, and blood. The rest of Hellas borrowed and traded recipes with gusto, but not for black soup! The Spartans were strange. Really really strange.

                                      But not all of Greece eats like the Spartans. Not even today's Spartans! One of the best breakfasts I had in all of Greece was in Sparta. A huge basket brimming with at least a half dozen different types of breads hot from the ovens, a huge bowl of freshly churned butter, and all kinds of preserves and honey. Fig preserves, quince, berries, apricot, roses, just a magnificent assortment. And of course, hot frothy Greek cofffee (which is the same thing as Turkish coffee, but DO NOT call it that in Greece!). Turned out to be a bona fide "stay with you" breakfast. Stayed with us all day! The butter was goat butter, and the whole flock just trailed along and kept bleating at us at least until sundown. <sigh> But I'd eat it again. '-)

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        I've been wondering whether those ancient Greeks and Romans loved cheesecake. I happened upon an online version of the Deipnosophists, which is a strange book written about 120 AD, a blend of philosophy and cookery. It was written in Rome by a Greek who grew up in Egypt (well, in Alexandria, which was more Greek than Egyptian) It's sort of an ancient "My dinner with Andre" ... and it mentions cheesecake about 10 times at least. In fact it lists 4 kinds of cheesecakes that, according to the translator, had no words in English equivalent. Ames, placous, entiltos, itrium.

                                        1. re: Brian S

                                          Interesting! No recipes (or hints) given? Chances are there was plenty of "fresh cheese" similar to today's Philadelphia Cream Cheese, so why not? But my guess would be that the majority of cheesecakes wouldn't be sweet. But who knows? I suspect I could whip up an interesting cheesecake using honey and figs or other fruits readily available. hmmm Kitchen Aid mixers that ran on slave power? Not impossible.

                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                            I just found a blog by a guy who tried to reconstruct -- loosely -- five of the Deipnosophists recipes. Here's the cheesecake:

                                            and here's the first of the five, which has more info on the book:

                                            and here's one of the cheesecake recipes from the Deipnosophists itself:
                                            "Take some cheese and pound it, put in a brazen sieve and strain it, then add honey and flour made from spring wheat and heat the whole together into one mass."

                                            1. re: Brian S

                                              "Take some cheese and pound it..." My kingdom for a box grater? But overall, that last recipe sounds like it may be for a type of flatbread, with "cake" used generically.

                                              The almond cheesecake recipe doesn't strike me as being very close to authentic. As the writer says, it was borrowed from a modern-day website about honey. If I were trying to approximate an ancient cheesecake, circa 100AD, I would use well dried almonds in a mortar and pestel to make an almond flour for the almond flavoring and to replace any other flour, much as nuts are used in classic French cuisine to replace flour in a torte. Then use cream cheese with eggs for the leavening. Maybe separate the eggs and whip the writes for lighter texture. And surely they had plenty of sour cream! So a sweet cheesecake recipe need not be terribly far off what we make today. And for the record, I don't use any flour at all in my New York style cheesecake recipe. It just requires a really good strong arm for beating. Or a Kitchen Aid!

                                              I could be wrong, but my suspicion is that "sugar" of that day was not the well refined granulated white table sugar we are so familiar with today, but likely more like a demarara sugar. In which case, honey would be a more subtle sweetener. But then I'm not much of an authority on Rome. Classical Greece and New Kingdom Egypt -- XVIII Dynasty to be exact -- are more my areas of moderate knowledge.

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                Caroline1, Sid Mintz wrote a great book on sugar SWEETNESS AND POWER. The following blub is shamelessly lifted from the Johns Hopkins magazine, 1998 Thanksgiving edition:
                                                "A 75-year-old Hopkins professor emeritus of anthropology, Mintz has published his thoughts on food, what it reveals about culture, and how it affects history in the books Sweetness and Power (Viking Penguin, 1985) and Tasting Food, Tasting Freedom (Beacon, 1996). In 1948-49, he did the fieldwork for his dissertation in Puerto Rico, where he first encountered sugar plantations"

                                                In this book, Mintz references work by several other anthropologists, R.J. Forbes being one. Pg 20, he quotes Forbes, discussing "saccharon" as sugar was called by Dioscorides, Pliny and others "......like in consistence to salt, and brittle to be broken between the teeth, as salt is....."

                                                1. re: Sherri

                                                  Interesting. Thanks, Sherri. "Caking," due to humidity in many parts of the world, has always been a problem. I have some older English recipes (19th and early 20th century) that call for breaking off a lump of sugar and pounding it, presumably in a mortar and pestle. But it would also be effective to place it between sheets of strong paper or fine cloth and pound it with a rolling pin. Or a rock.

                                                  I am curious whether the "to be broken between the teeth, as salt is..." comes from ancient records or if it's a modern assumption. Breaking sugar up with the teeth sounds a lot more tolerable than breaking up salt that way. That, and the mortar and pestle and variations there-of are a very ancient food prep tool. Using the teeth would not only taste bad, but it would moisten the salt or sugar.

                                                  It's a personal idiosyncrasy, but I'm very distrustful of modern assumptions based on "evidence." The other day I was watching a Discovery Channel program on medicine (surgery) in ancient Egypt. They were accurately commenting on how intricate some surgeries were, including brain surgery, based on the healed bones and skulls of mummies. Then they showed an ancient painting of a surgical procedure with men holding down the person being operated on. Their conclusion was that they had very advanced surgery but no anesthetic because the patient was being held down. Made me laugh! We strap patients to the operating table for surgery today, and we do have anesthetics. Why do these "experts" assume the ancients didn't know how to grow poppies? More on topic, I find it's best to take a lot of "expert conclusions" with a grain of salt... '-)

                                                  I'm not really all that familiar with sugar (as we know it) in the ancient world. I either assumed or was taught that sugar arrived in Europe from the New World, along with tomatoes, potatoes, avocados, corn, the turkey and chocolate, among other things. Wouldn't it be a hoot if the cheese cake at Caesar's Palace is actually authentic? LOL!

                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                    according to google sugar arrived from the east, not from the west. Starting in polynesia and traveling through asia, india and on into the middle east, finally arriving in Europe sometime in 11th century, a result of the Crusades. From there on to the caribbean (and finally Hawaii, back to polynesia where it started.)

                                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                      Thanks, KM. Don't know why I seem to have skipped over learning much about sugar. In addition to your information, one website -- http://www.sucrose.com/lhist.html -- says the use of sugar began in Polynesia, then spread to India, where it was "found" by Darius (the Great, not Darius the Wimp, who ran away from Alexander the Great) in 510 BCE. Presumably, he would have taken it back to Persia, but it appears not to have preempted honey the way it has in our culture today. But then again, when you gather honey, you have honey. When you gather sugar cane, you have a major distillation and refining process in front of you. hmmm... If cost had no impact on distribution and availability, just think... We might all be driving Lamborhginis! '-)

                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                        You can still buy a relatively unrefined sugar from Latin America and Asia. The white granulated stuff is indeed the product of modern refining processes, but blocks or cones of dark brown sugar can be produced with the same technology required to make maple syrup - lots of heat to reduce the juice.

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          Two of the more interesting sugars I currently have on hand are piloncillo (Mexician cone sugar available in most Hispanic markets) and Chinese brown sugar pieces made from "sugar cane, sulfur dioxide and water. They're both what we would call "brown" sugars, but the flavor is a bit different.

                                                          I bought the Chinese sugar to make dongpo rou, then by the time I was able to find a place willing to sell me less than 19 pounds of pork belly at a shot, I'd sort of lost my enthusiasm. But thank goodness for freezers! The pork belly is now patiently waiting for inspiration to set up camp again in my kitchen!

                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                            Dongpo pork is appropriate for this thread, cause it's one of the world's older recipes.


                                                            1. re: Brian S

                                                              Thanks for the link, Brian. I've never had it before, but first saw it on an edition of Gourmet magazine's TV show about sweet food. The show's travel hosts had it at a restaurant in China that is famous for the dish. Oh, and it was certainly not served in large five inch by five inch portions. About two inches by two inches, and tied like a package to keep it from falling apart during the cooking.

                                                              I've found about a half dozen recipes on the web, one of which seems more traditional than the rest. It's the one I plan to use, including the two days to prepare the dish.

                                                              Since I've been told to take my bad cholesterols down a notch or two, I figure if I go "cholesterol free" for a couple of weeks, then I can have the dongpo rou, and it will all work itslef out to a normal intake. Hey, I'm well practiced at rationalization! '-)

                                      2. re: Brian S

                                        BrianS-- hey just to clarify, cuz tulsa isn't a state-- did you go to the oklahoma state fair, located outside of oklahoma city? or a smaller county or other regional fair in tulsa?

                                        1. re: soupkitten

                                          Tulsa State Fair, which is larger than the second state fair in Oklahoma, the Oklahoma State Fair, and is one of the largest fairs in the world.

                                          1. re: Brian S

                                            wow, interesting! i didn't know that there was more than one state fair in OK-- now i know :)

                                  3. re: Caroline1

                                    i don't see why a dining room in an Inn doesnt qualify as a restaurant. I'm sure that Mary and Joseph got food at the inn, and that in addition to all the travelers, there was a mix of locals in the place as well. Too busy to cook at home, or just curious to meet new people who were in town for the census. And I have no doubt that on trade routes around various oasis locations or important fords or mountain passes around the world there were inns that did exactly the same thing. A place single men hung out, or husbands who's wives had gone to the next town to help their mother or sister, or whatever. Someplace they could tell tall tales, wink at the "serving wench" and listen to the tall tales of travelers from places far away.

                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      I also suspect / have no doubt / would be surprised if it weren't the case that such places have existed for a very long time, and yes, we can choose to call them restaurants. After all, such places still exist today and we sometimes call them restaurants, but I don't think this is what first pops into anyone's head when they imagine a typical restaurant.

                                      Rebecca Spang discusses this in her 2000 book (apparently – I've only read reviews). One of the crucial differences between the inns/taverns, which have existed since forever, and the modern restaurant (which she traces to pre-revolutionary France*) is that taverns are completely public spaces. You eat at a big table with everyone else, at the same time as everybody else, and close, potentially unpleasant, interaction with strangers is the norm. Many people would find this atmosphere intolerable (for example, very few women could be found in such traditional dining establishments).

                                      The restaurant, by contrast, occupies a unique middle-ground between the private and public spheres, because you go there to eat privately, in public. You sit at a separate table, possibly in a different room altogether, and you decide when and what you eat. There is a clear distinction between your party, and everyone else, who you are not expected, or even really allowed to interact with.

                                      *This study is obviously Euro- and even Gallo-centric, but I think the author was forced to position herself in relation to the standard food history that Will Owen summarized in the very first response above. And within this very restricted Western European context, there was something special about France. For example, even into the 19th century, tourists from abroad were "both amazed and delighted at the acceptable presence of women in restaurants" in Paris.

                                      Anyway, my point is just that there is some serious scholarship on this topic, not just speculation, and trying to pin down the different aspects of the concept of "restaurant" is not just academic twisting and tweaking, it's really the heart of the question.

                                      1. re: DeppityDawg

                                        Please allow me to reiterate: an inn is the place where you must eat if you are a traveller, and have nowhere else to go. A restaurant is a place where you MAY eat if you wish, as an alternative to your home, which may well be nearby. That is the defining difference, and on that will I stand.

                                        1. re: Will Owen

                                          I do not understand where that definition comes from. I do not consider wikipedia to be the most authoritative source, however they state the following:
                                          "'... In addition to providing for the needs of travellers, inns traditionally acted as community gathering places...."

                                          If you have a place that happens to serve food, and is a community gathering place, then there must have been locals CHOOSING to eat there. I respectfully reject your premise WO.

                                          1. re: KaimukiMan

                                            I respectfully and ruefully apologize for my rather arbitrary pontifications recorded above. Of course an inn would have been a community gathering place, at least any situated in a well-settled area. I was thinking more in terms of quasi-remote coaching stops, where rough grub and spartan sleeping arrangements (men in this room, women in that, two or three to a mattress) were all you could get in those parts. However, I will say that I doubt they were commonly places where local families would go to dine, but more a sort of tavern where men might gather to meet and talk over tankards of ale and whatever food might be at hand. Families did not typically take their meals in commercial establishments, but only in their homes or those of others, unless they were on a journey.

                                  4. Another thought that occurred to me. In T'ang Dynasty China, and perhaps earlier, much of the social life of officials, literati, and other rich and well-heeled gentlemen occurred outside the home, in public places such as.... restaurants. See http://books.google.com/books?id=u9MU... In Rome, on the other hand, while it's true that much social intercourse occurred in baths, fora etc., if a rich Roman had invited his friends to eat at a restaurant, his friends would snicker that he couldn't afford to hire a decent chef for his house. So social attitudes matter; gourmet restaurants are more likely to be found where it confers social status to eat at one.

                                    1. Fascinating thread. Thanks Brian S- I'm really enjoying the replies to this.

                                      1. "(I suspect that in medieval times the inns along the pilgrimage route to Compostela in northeast Spain were places where pilgrims from all over Europe exchanged cooking tips with the host, and perhaps this was true of the hostelries in ancient times too, but if so there is no record of this.)"

                                        The Spain Road Trip has a couple of episodes centered on this pilgrimage. The 3rd has a demonstration of the Empanada Gallega. This style is baked in a large disk, almost like a pizza with top and bottom crust (but no the Chicago style stuffed pizza). Some think this had its origins as road food for the pilgrims. One cookbook speculates that the earliest form may have been a stale round loaf of bread, sliced, and stuffed.

                                        1. romans got into eating street food, and then trattorias, because their homes were "ramshackle, cramped firetraps" according to this little article: http://www.inmamaskitchen.com/ITALIAN...

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: alkapal

                                            Yes. Some of those ancient Roman tenements might have been over ten stories in height and maybe a lot more. People think Shibam in Yemen has the oldest skyscrapers, but it's really Rome that gets the honors. Cooking in one of those would have been very dangerous, with a risk of fire.


                                          2. I'd say about 6700 BC in the "Golden Triangle." There was an early Australopithecine spot, called Mc Donald’s. According to some early stone tablets, their sign read, "4 sold."

                                            OK, I am reading and learning. Now, some of the places that I have dined featured cooks and servers from about 200 BC, but that is another story.


                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                              I've heard that Australopithecines used kangaroo meat in pocket bread for their burgers, and had a hopping business. Surely they sold more than four! '-)

                                            2. If I remember correctly, there's an innkeeper mentioned in Gilgamesh, so I'd say that Sumeria wins. (Unfortunately, no copy handy at the moment.)

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: hungry_pangolin

                                                Siduri. She sold booze but no food, though.

                                              2. Just announced this week, new archaelogical discoveries suggest that in ancient Greece, taverns and other more racy things were located in private houses. So it is not unlikely that the same was true of restaurants. You paid, and then ate at the host's table.