[Sca-cooks] OT: Rome and medieval Egypt

lilinah at earthlink.net lilinah at earthlink.net
Wed Jun 8 19:18:33 PDT 2011

Samia wrote:
> As far as Egyptian food, there are at least two cookbooks from Egypt in 
> the period. AFAIK, neither has been translated in its entirety into 
> English. Lilia Zaouli has a few of those recipes translated in /Medieval 
> Cuisine of the Islamic World,/ but it's good to know that these were 
> translated from Arabic to Italian (?) to English. Charles Perry did the 
> Forward for the English version, so it has some good kudos.

The cookbook you mention, from the 13th C. Egypt, Kanz al-fawa'id fi tanwi' al-mawa'id, has not been fully translated into English, sadly, but 37 of its recipes are published in "Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World" by Lilia Zaouali (note spelling), out in paper since 2007 - and i think 3 dozen is more than a few :-) Perry was less enthusiastic to me in private e-mail. I wrote a review for this list when i got my copy not long after it came out in hardcover.

And we actually do have a complete cookbook from Mamluk-period Egypt, fully translated by Charles Perry and published in "Medieval Arab Cookery". It is al-Kitab Wasf al-At'ima al-Mu'tada (The Book of the Description of Familiar Foods), written down in 1373 in Cairo. It is a compendium, as many "period" Arabic language cookbooks are, with parts taken from a number of other sources. It includes what Perry refers to as an expanded version of al-Baghdadi's cookbook, with more than twice as many recipes as al-Baghdadi's original, plus a confectioner's manual (LOTS of white sugar), plus a chapter titled "Dishes for Invalids, and What Monks and Christians Eat in Lent" taken from another, now lost, book. I have recipes i cooked from this chapter on my website, when i cooked Lenten food as part of a challenge from this list.

> On Middle Ages Egyptian culture, the gal/guy could look up Abbasid,
> Fatimid, Ayyubid, and Mamluk cultures. They all took turns controlling
> Egypt. Research into the Cairo Geniza yields spectacular results on
> these. (The Fatimids created Cairo next to Fustat).

And eventually Cairo subsumed Fustat.

For those who don't know, a Geniza is a part of a Jewish synagogue where all sorts of papers are kept, walled up, because if a name of god is written on one, it cannot be merely discarded, but must be treated respectfully. The Geniza in question has an amazing wealth of information on life in the Fatimid period. S. D. Goitein wrote the six volume set, "A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza", analyzing them and organizing much of the information. It tells about more than just the lives of Jews. So if anyone is interested in medieval Egypt, Goitein's books are an excellent source.

> It's also important to know that in the Middle Ages there was a cultural
> blanket on the Middle East/Islamic Mediterranean. Yedida Stillman calls
> it the Pan-Islamic Culture. With minor territorial variations, the culture
> is largely the same in the Middle Ages (specifically excluding Persian)
> because of the strong trade. Knowing this, people can borrow pretty
> confidently from al-Andalus, Baghdad, and Damascus to fill in gaps
> of knowledge of Cairo/Fustat.

Well, yes and no. This is true to some extent, but some of the regional variations are not so minor... Still i agree that it is useful to read up on both Eastern Dar al-Islam (what are now Iraq, Syria-Lebanon-Israel-Palestine, Anatolia, etc.) and Western Dar al-Islam (al-Andaluz, and most of North Africa).

> You could also direct the person to my blog:
> http://idlelion.blogspot.com/
> I'm slowly putting up recipes and redactions from my first feast this
> past weekend.

There is a lot of excellent information on your blog. I highly recommend it. And i look forward to seeing your recipes.

However, i am not a big fan of blogs as a way to "organize" information, as they tend to be rather diffuse. They are great as journals to jot down daily notes on experiences and projects. But it is generally not very easy to find info, the way it would be a well organized website. I assume they are a little easier to update for many people. But trying to search for info in a blog is not always particularly easy - did the user tag everything? what tags did they use? how different are they from your own search terms? etc.

Whereas a stable index page can direct readers to every section with information on specific topics. Having to troll a blog looking for tags is much less efficient.
Urtatim (that's urr-tah-TEEM)
the persona formerly known as Anahita
not as cranky as she may sound,
she's just down with some yucky virus

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