We tend to think of Pompeii mostly in terms of its ending. Before the city was smothered, though, Pompeii was a bustling seaside metropolis—an intersection, essentially, of an empire. Today, its remains still host the ancient objects that serve as evidence of its place in the world.
Since 2005, in a long-ignored area inside the Porta Stabia, one of Pompeii's busiest gates, a team of archaeologists has been examining evidence of the city as it once was—evidence that may date as far back as the 6th century BC. The team, from the University of Cincinnati, is examining a plot that encompasses 20 different shop fronts from the old city. Most of those establishments, it seems, served food and drink. Which means that their remains offer—via trash collections, kitchens with food remnants, drains, cesspits, and latrines—a record of the kind of meals that ancient residents of the city would have enjoyed.
So what did the Pompeiians eat? The stuff you'd probably expect ... but also some stuff you probably wouldn't. On the one hand, the team discovered evidence of food that would have been both inexpensive and widely available to ancient Romans—stuff like grains, fruits, nuts, olives, lentils, fish, and (chicken) eggs. They also found some evidence of butchered meat.