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Let the Feast Begin

A campus dining hall becomes ancient Rome for a night

By Marcene Robinson

  Student manager Nikkole Beadle, aka Aquilia Severa, wraps Peter Fowler, a freshman electrical engineering student, in a toga.

Student manager Nikkole Beadle, aka Aquilia Severa, wraps Peter Fowler, a freshman electrical engineering student, in a toga.

When in Rome—ancient Rome, that is—eat lots of figs and cumin.

That’s one of the lessons students gleaned at an April 6 event that transformed an ordinary collegiate dining hall into the Eternal City. Inspired by an undergraduate course of the same name, and jointly hosted by UB’s Department of Classics and Campus Dining and Shops, “Eat Like a Roman” allowed thousands of UB students, along with their families and faculty members, to, well, eat like the Romans do—or, rather, did, millennia ago.

At dinnertime on that Sunday evening, a hungry but well-mannered mob gathered in the lobby of the Crossroads Culinary Center on UB’s North Campus, which had been decorated with a cardboard chariot, swords and shields. Toga-wearing greeters shouted “Salve!” (“hello” in Latin) as guests made their way down a walkway lined by gold pillars into the main dining area. Dining staff were dressed as emperors and gladiators, classics students manned informational tables laden with replicas of ancient pottery and cookware, and Roman music played in the background.

The meal, developed from the recipes of Apicius—who inspired the only surviving ancient Roman cookbook—and his contemporaries, was not what one might expect. Ancient Romans didn’t eat tomatoes (a New World plant) or pasta. Garlic was considered low-class fare. Reflecting the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern influences that did inform ancient Roman cooking, the dinner included such dishes as cinnamon lamb soup, baked ham with figs, honey and sesame “pizza,” and peaches with cumin sauce.

Reviews were mixed, though the pizza was a hit. This is, after all, present-day Buffalo.