While wine was an important beverage, Romans looked down on drinking to excess and drank their wine mixed with water; drinking wine "straight" was viewed as a barbarian custom.
"Julian stew" (Pultes Iulianae) was made from spelt to which was added two kinds of ground meat, pepper, lovage, fennel, hard bread, and a wine reduction; according to tradition, it was eaten by the soldiers of Julius Caesar and was a "quintessential Roman dish." Mills and commercial ovens, usually combined in a bakery complex, were considered so vital to the wellbeing of Rome that several religious festivals honored the deities who furthered these processes—and even the donkeys who toiled in the mills. Because of the importance of landowning in the formation of the Roman cultural elite, Romans idealized farming and took a great deal of pride in serving produce.
The cena proper centered on meat, a practice that evokes the tradition of communal banquets following animal sacrifice.
The most common salty condiment was garum, the fermented fish sauce that added the flavor dimension now called "umami".
Major exporters of garum were located in the provinces of Spain.
Views on nutrition were influenced by schools of thought such as humoral theory.
A multicourse dinner began with the gustatio ("tasting" or "appetizer"), often a salad or other minimally cooked composed dish, with ingredients to promote good digestion.
The olive orchards of Roman Africa attracted major investment and were highly productive, with trees larger than those of Mediterranean Europe; massive lever presses were developed for efficient extraction.
Salt was the fundamental seasoning: Pliny the Elder remarked that "Civilized life cannot proceed without salt: it is so necessary an ingredient that it has become a metaphor for intense mental pleasure." It was an important item of trade, but pure salt was relatively expensive.
Banqueting played a major role in Rome's communal religion.
Maintaining the food supply to the city of Rome had become a major political issue in the late Republic, and continued to be one of the main ways the emperor expressed his relationship to the Roman people and established his role as a benefactor.
Food and dining in the Roman Empire reflect both the variety of foodstuffs available through the expanded trade networks of the Roman Empire and the traditions of conviviality from ancient Rome's earliest times, inherited in part from the Greeks and Etruscans.
In contrast to the Greek symposium, which was primarily a drinking party, the equivalent social institution of the Roman convivium (dinner party) was focused on food.
Frequenting taverns, where prostitutes sometimes worked, was among the moral failings that louche emperors and other public figures might be accused of.