Mallard to go? Dig of Pompeii fast-food place reveals tastes

ROME (AP) — A fast-food eatery at Pompeii has been excavated, helping to reveal dishes that were popular for the citizens of the ancient Roman city who were partial to eating out.

Pompeii Archaeological Park’s longtime chief Massimo Osanna said on Saturday while some 80 such fast-foods have been found at Pompeii, it is the first time such a hot-food-drink eatery – known as a thermopolium – was completely unearthed.

A segment of the fast-food counter was partially dug up in 2019 during work to shore up Pompeii’s oft-crumbling ruins. Since then, archaeologists kept digging, revealing a multi-sided-counter, with typical wide holes inserted into its top. The countertop held deep vessels for hot food, not unlike soup containers nestled into modern-day salad bars.

Plant and animal specialists are still analysing remains from the site, with its counter frescoed with a figure of an undersea nymph astride a horse. Images of two upside-down mallards and a rooster, whose plumage was painted with the typical vivid colour known as Pompeiian red, also brightened the eatery and likely served to advertise the menu.

Another fresco depicted a dog on a leash, perhaps not unlike modern reminders to leash pets. Graffiti was inscribed on the painting’s frame.

Pompeii staff anthropologist Valeria Amoretti said, “initial analyses confirm how the painted images represent, at least in part, the food and beverages effectively sold inside”.

Her statement noted that duck bone fragment was found in one of the containers, along with remains from goats, fish and snails. At the bottom of a container were traces of ground fava beans, which in ancient times were added for flavour, Amoretti said.

“We know what they were eating that day,” said Osanna, referring to the day of Pompeii’s destruction in 79 AD. The food remains indicated “what was popular with the common folk”, Osanna told Rai state TV, noting that street-food places were not frequented by the Roman elite.

The thermopolium in the Pompeii archeological park, near Naples, Italy. PHOTO: AP