Tavola Calda

September 27, 2010 / Local Interest

lucusferoniaeTavole calde, literally “hot tables”, have been around in Italy since the time of the Romans, when they were referred to as thermopolium. At that time, pottery vats were filled with hot and cold drinks, soups, pastas and more. These places served as the local bar or meeting place, and were often considered the town or village’s center of activity. Now, one can visit the remains of thermopolium at Pompeii, Herculaneum, Ostia Antica, or just above Rome in Capena at Lucus Feroniae (pictured).

In good-sized towns or cities where business crowds can be found, such a place is now called a tavola calda, providing good food and variety at very reasonable prices. You can make your selections from pizzas, hot and cold pastas, salads, panini (sandwiches), main dishes and side dishes, in addition to desserts, soft drinks, wine and beer. The “hot” dishes will have been prepared in advance, and perhaps even reheated in a microwave.

After you have chosen your various dishes on your tray, you will pay a cashier, who will also take your drink order. Unlike bar (cafés), where you will pay extra for table seating, there is no extra charge here, and you can sit where you like. It is not uncommon to eat quickly and lavishly for under ‚ā¨10. This is a great option when you are short of time and don’t have the opportunity to sit down and dine as Italians usually do.

Transport yourself back 2,000 years and imagine yourself dressed in a toga, talking with your neighbors as someone dishes up a bowl of pasta from a thermopolium.

Evanne Brandon-Diner

by Evanne Brandon-Diner

Chronicler of local village life in Northern Lazio, and property restoration and purchasing consultant. www.lavventuraitalia.com

8 Responses to “Tavola Calda”

  1. Anna Caputi

    I don’t think that the ancient Romans would have been able to order pasta as it hadn’t been invented yet. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    • Pasta long dated its origins before Marco Polo. Lasagne was the first type of pasta used by the Romans. It was large flat sheets of pasta that would be used in winter or times of hardship as a store of food. This would then be mixed with vegetables and sauces to make something substantial. Marco Polo did not bring pasta to Italy.

  2. I saw this is Pompei-it really allowed you to imagine what it was like back then.

  3. The Tavola Calda is definitely a money-saver for the frugal tourist!
    The origin of pasta is unknown. Google.com has many listings for the origins of pasta–from the Etruscans – Marco Polo – to Arabs, etc. Check out http://www.italiancook.ca The world’s cooks can make delicious items with flour and water plus various ingredients.
    Buon appetito!

  4. I’ve been to Italy many times, but I never knew about this! I’m going to check it out on our trip there next month. In France, we look to see where the white ‘camionettes’, the workers trucks, are parked to see where the good value lunches can be found. Sort of the same principle. thanks for a great blog.

  5. Laurent Beaulieu

    Nice note, one comment there was no pasta in Italy 2000 yrs ago. Pasta is a relatively new invention, maybe 300 yrs.

  6. I always tell those traveling to Italy that if they should get hungry around 5 or 6pm (American dinner time) and restaurants have yet to open, they should look for a Tavola Calda, where they will pay alla carte and find everything needed to make a complete meal…gnocchi, omelets, fried artichokes, etc. all hot and fresh. Coffee bars usually have what’s referred to as a Tavola Fredda which would mean a cold table (i.e., sandwiches and pastries).


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