Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About
According to contemporary dictionaries, a restaurant is simply an eating place, an establishment where meals are served to customers. By this definition, restaurants—by whatever name they have been given—are almost as old as civilization. The ruins of Pompeii contain the remnants of a tavern which provided foods and wines to passers-by. For as long as there have been travellers there have been institutions offering food and accommodation (and the traditions of hospitality ensured that they were also welcomed into private dwellings). Indeed, the prime function of these early ‘eating places’ was to cater to the needs of people away from home who, unless they had brought their own food and cooks with them, were obliged to take whatever was available—or go hungry. However, it would also be fair to accord these places a similar role in urban life to that occupied by a modern restaurant. Archaeologists have been struck by the lack of cooking places and facilities in Roman insulae. Presumably their inhabitants gratified their appetites in eating houses. Similarly, a geographical survey of medieval London cookshops shows them to have been located in the most densely populated districts and not on the routes of access where they would have been most useful to travellers.