[Sca-cooks] Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World

Lilinah lilinah at earthlink.net
Mon Jan 21 00:10:29 PST 2008

Well, at long last, i finally forced myself out of the house (i'm not 
agoraphobic, i just hate going shopping... except at Lacis and fabric 
stores and spice stores and the Berkeley Bowl...) and over to 
Bancroft Ave, which runs along the south side of the UC-Berkeley 
campus, where it's nearly impossible to park. Apparently there was a 
basketball game going on, yet somehow i found a space on the street 
just around the corner from one of the bookstores i wanted to visit 
(I was also looking for blank flashcards on which to write the 
vocabulary words from my modern Arabic language class).

At University Press Books, where they stock books from university and 
museum presses, after looking the volume over, I shelled out the 
sheckels for:
"Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 recipes"
by Lilia Zaouali
University of California Press, 2007
(first published in Italian 2004).

(Let me interject here that the pronunciation of her last name is 
za-wa-lee -- French often uses "ou" where we would use a "w" -- so if 
you see an "ou" in between two other vowels in a word, it's likely 
pronounced like a "w")

Charles Perry was disappointed that it was not a deep scholarly work. 
And, indeed it is not. It is however, quite useful for the SCAdian 

The book begins with a brief but informative Foreward by Charles Perry.
The primary text is divided into three sections:
Part One: Cultural Background and Culinary Context
Part Two: The Medieval Tradition
Part Three: Contemporary North African Cuisine

The first sixty pages is divided into two parts, "Crossroads of the 
World's Cuisines" and "Materials, Techniques, and Terminology". These 
include, among other things, a brief overview of known Arabic 
language culinary texts, ingredients, and cooking techniques, and 
includes some useful photos of extant cookware and serving dishes, 
although only a rather limited number.

Part Two consists of 143 recipes from four sources, three not yet 
available in English, one only recently available - "Annals of the 
Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar Al-warraq's Tenth-century Baghdadi 
Cookbook" (Islamic History and Civilization) by Nawal Nasrallah. 
Zaouali includes 24 recipes from this vast source, which i assume she 
translated herself.

The other three are from the 13th century. One is "Kitab Fadalat 
al-khiwan fi tayyibat al-ta'am w'al-alwan" by Ibn Razin from 
al-Andalus, recently discussed on this list, from which there are 53 
recipes. Another is the "Wusla ila'l-habib fi wasf al-tayyabat 
wa'l-tib" from Syria, which used to come up on this list from time to 
time a few years ago. Maxime Rodinson listed all its recipes (see 
"Medieval Arab Cookery", Prospect Press), but only a few of the 
recipes have been available in translation -- now we have 29 of them. 
And the fourth source is also from the 13th C., the Egyptian "Kanz 
al-fawa'id fi tanwi' al-mawa'id", which is the source of 37 recipes.

The recipes are arranged into 14 sections by type, among which is 
"Bread and Broth", which is actually a section on Tharids. There is 
also a section on "Pasta" with directions for making several 
different kinds, and a section on "Couscous" with five recipes, 
including the description of a pot for cooking it, which is rather 
like the modern couscousiere. In the "Pastries and Jams" section is a 
recipe for Quince Sikanjubin (from the "Kanz") - yes, quince juice 
with sugar and vinegar (and some optional flavorings).

All the recipes are given in translation only, which we would expect. 
Unfortunately, however, the author often substitutes her own title 
for them, without including a transliteration of the original name, 
which i like to see. Most recipes are introduced by a brief 
paragraph, which may include history, discussion of techniques or 
ingredients, or mention of a modern recipe that is related. The 
recipes are not "worked out" or modernized, and so are just waiting 
for us to get our "redaction" chops on them.

The source books are from several different cultures and centuries, 
yet there is little analysis of them, so there's no deep 
understanding of the changes in the cuisine over time. And there's 
only a little discussion of the differences between Eastern and 
Western Arabic cuisine.

The book ends with 31 modern North African recipes, chosen because 
Zaouali thinks each is similar to a Medieval recipe in the book. Some 
of the recipes are for interesting dishes i don't recall seeing in 
any of my other North African cookbooks.

While not the masterwork of scholarship that "Annals of the Caliphs' 
Kitchens" is, Zaouali's book also does not cost $195, but merely 
$24.95. And it is definitely useful for the SCAdian cook, especially 
since it includes recipes not in any other book.
Urtatim (that's err-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita

My LibraryThing

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