Ancient Roman cuisine was particularly healthy since only the freshest ingredients were used and the very best was extracted from each one. Cheese and fruit were always well represented on the Roman table, with the exception of exotic fruits, the Romans only had lemon which they used as moth repellent and dates imported from Egypt.
Mushrooms and truffles were also prized commodities. Wine was also treasured, and as today, there were good wines like the Falerno and not so good wines like those from the Vatican. Romans, however, preferred to drink wine with water and often with other flavors such as honey and spices. During the winter months, wine was drunk warm and for the well-off, it was chilled with snow ( bought at a high price) in the summer.
Most Roman cuisine was very simple, as the average people were shepherds or farmers. The elaborate banquets were held only by the emperors and very rich; they featured many unusual food items like Camel’s Foot, Peacocks, Flamingoes, Herons, and Donkey Meat.
For the average Roman, a staple meal was a much-like dish made from grain very similar to today’s polenta. Corn was not used for making polenta until after the Americans were discovered and the seed was brought back to Italy. The expansion of the Roman Empire was based on salt. (Salt was used to trade with other countries of the Mediterranean.) The cuisines developed through this trading, adding new foods and the culinary traditions of other countries.
The setting sun marked the end of the working day and the family came together for dinner, the main meal of the day, and the most lavish and filling. The meal varied between family to family, depending on whether they lived in the city or the countryside, and in which period of history they lived. The first ancient Romans ate mostly soups of vegetables or cereals, milk, cheese, olives, fruit and from time to time, lard.
As customs became more refined and new food stuffs became part of the diet, bread substituted the soups and meat, which previously had been a rare luxury for the poor, and gradually began to make its way onto the tables of the less well off. The better-off families would often receive guests and hold sumptuous banquets. The evening meal was a series of fixed courses following an order similar to that of today, beginning with an antipasti, followed by the main dish and ending with a dessert.
Source: tours-italy.com, Culinary Institute of Tuscany