Ever wonder what it was like to live in ancient Pompeii, before the diastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius?
Caupona Restaurant, a unique restaurant located near the ruins of Pompeii, with its hand-painted frescos and magical atmosphere, welcomes you back to ancient Roman times and allows you to experience dining as it was in ancient Pompeii.
What's the difference between Pompeii and Pompei? Pompeii (with double "i") refers to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and ruins of the ancient Roman city, but Pompei (with single "i") refers to the modern Italian city, within the metropolitan city of Naples, Italy).
How to Get to Caupona Restaurant:
After a full morning of walking through the ancient streets in the Pompeii archeological site, we decided it was time to get out of the hot Italian summer sun and break for lunch. Having researched beforehand, we planned on visiting a nearby restaurant that promised a magical and authentic Pompeiian experience.
From the Porta Marina exit of Pompeii National Park, it is only a 5-10m walk to the restaurant, following the slope of Via Villa dei Misteri. The restaurant is located on Via Masseria Curato, along and narrow laneway, easy to miss if you're not looking for it. Walking down the quietly secluded laneway, it felt as if we had taken a wrong turn.
Stepping through the iron gates and into the courtyard, we were welcomed at the main door to the restaurant by two hosts, one a young lady dressed as an ancient Roman. We sat inside, facing the courtyard so we could take advantage of the cool shade but still enjoy the view.
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What to Expect at Caupona Restaurant:
We were seated at a small wooden table with simple wooden chairs. Each table was adorned with terra cotta goblets and simple tapered wax candles.
The walls were stunning. We were surrounded by beautiful hand-painted replicas of frescos in bright, vivid colours, indicative of those of the ancient Roman period.
Ancient Pompeii was considered a major resort city during the times of ancient Rome. Many private homes excavated in the archeological site of Pompeii, once filled with ash and debris, revealed stunning painted walls, with vibrant colours even today.
Our server, the young lady dressed as an ancient Roman who greeted us, welcomed us by lighting our candle and pouring water into our terra cotta glasses.
She then offered to dress us up in typical ancient Roman wear to truly engulf ourselves in the magical atmosphere, but knowing we had to return to Pompeii (and not very comfortable in the spotlight) we opted against it.
What is a Caupona? The "Caupona" or "Taberna" refers to the tavern or place where food (and sometimes lodging) was on offer in ancient Roman times, often seen in the ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum as opened to the street for a version of "fast food" service. Caupona restaurant in Pompei is considered the first faithfully reproduced ancient caupona.
What to Eat at Caupona Restaurant:
We ordered much needed bottles of sparkling (and flat) water while we perused the menus. Caupona offers both contemporary and ancient Roman dishes, all served on hand-painted terra cotta plates.
The menus themselves are a work of art. Bound with white string, each has a unique cover made from thin wood with hand-painted images that could have been found in the wall frescos.
While we grappled over the choices on the menu, we were provided with a rustic loaf of bread, hand made the way it would have been in ancient Pompeii. It was crunchy and delicious, especially drizzled with a little olive oil. We were also given each a small meatball appetizer to start (the non-vegetarian was happy to eat both delicious bites).
Caupona offers a few menus: a more contemporary selection for every day use and specific recreations of ancient Roman and specifically Pompeiian recipes.
As a starter, we chose the typical Caprese-type salad, with rustic tomatoes and thick bufala mozzarella and basil, drizzled in balsamic vinegar. Coupled with the rustic bread, the simple flavours were perfection.
Next we each chose a pasta dish, one a cheese agnolotti with tomatoes and cream, one gnocchi with mussels in broth. Both were unique and full of flavour. For dessert, we opted for a pomegranate-berry granita and a special cheesecake, beautifully decorated with edible flowers and cookie crumble.
Overall, the food, the atmosphere, the experience, was positive and one that we would happily revisit next time we find ourselves in Pompei. If you plan on visiting the ancient ruins of Pompeii, plan for a lunch break that will enhance your knowledge and experience of the ancient city.
Caupona Restaurant, Pompei, Italy
Overall Ranking - 4/5
The restaurant may be a little hidden and out of the way from the main strip, but the quality of the food and the attention to detail in the presentation, make this restaurant worth the effort. Ensure you have time and are not in a rush to fully enjoy the experience. If you enjoy the dramatics, opt for dressing up in traditional clothing while you eat!