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Biblical Archaeology Review 46:3, Summer 2020

Strata: Then and Now: Fast and Delicious

The desire for quick and easy food options was just as pervasive in ancient Roman culture as it is in our own. In Pompeii alone, more than 80 “fast-food” joints—known as thermopolia (singular: thermopolium)—have been discovered that served drinks and hot ready-to-eat food to ancient people on the go. The prepared food and libations were stored in earthenware jars called dolia that were placed inside the counters. While food purchased at a thermopolium was mostly intended to be eaten on the go, some examples have been found that contained small areas for sit-down dining as well.

In 1606, the Tokugawa Shogunate moved the capital of Japan to Edo, transforming the city into a bustling hub with a vibrant nightlife. In the 1820s, a man named Hanaya Yohei opened the first Sushi Stall in the Ryogoku district of Edo, which was a bustling crossroads for travelers. Using the modernized sushi rice fermentation processes, which reduced to hours what used to take months, and then adding fish freshly caught from the river near his stall, Yohei was able to serve deliciously prepared food very quickly, and the first fast-food sushi was born!

The modern concept of fast food began early in the 20th century with restaurants such as White Castle, which was established in 1921, making it one of the first fast-food chains and the oldest hamburger chain in the world. While we continue to debate the nutritional value of fast food, its speed and convenience certainly make it a viable and economical option.—J.D.

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