By Melissa Locker
March 21, 2016
Credit: Getty Images

When you eat in Ancient Rome, you may want to bring your own fork.

That’s but one takeaway provided by a new, quirky class aiming to introduce modern palates to ancient Roman cuisine and dining customs. Kiki Aranita and Chris Vacca, who own and operate Poi Dog Snack Shop, a food cart that offers Hawaiian- and Filipino-influenced street food, have teamed up with Melanie Subacus, a Classics professor, to bring ancient Roman cooking to the home of the cheese steak. While Aranita and Vacca instruct students on how to cook up ancient Roman fare, Subacus explains the history behind the recipes and the influence that the Roman Empire had on cooking.

For the class, the teachers mined the writings of Cato, Apicius, and Pliny the Elder for recipes like Savillum, a sort of honey cheesecake. While the recipes are ancient, they do make some concessions for modern tastes, swapping in chicken and pork for ostrich and dormice.

Some surprises are in store for Italian food fans, including the fact there were no tomatoes in ancient Roman cuisine, because the plant had not yet made the journey over from the New World.

And while modern Italian fare is filled with variations on the theme of tomatoes, garlic, and basil, the ancient Romans preferred flavors like black pepper, vinegar, wine, and garum, a fermented fish sauce, similar to the one used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking today.

The ancient Romans also relied solely on spoons and knives to eat their Parthian chicken and pounded herbs with curd cheese, but forks—if used at all—were mainly reserved for serving, which is why the meals, which are prepared and served at the classes, are strictly BYOF (bring your own fork) affairs.

To visit ancient Rome via Philadelphia, the group’s next event will take place on Monday, April 4 at the Free Library of Philadelphia's Culinary Literacy Center. They also offer classes at COOK, a local demonstration kitchen.