Fine Dining

by Salim Al-Hassani - 1001 Book Chief Editor Published on: 14th January 2022

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Medieval people from Muslim Civilisation, like many others, ate according to seasonal influences. Typical winter meals used vegetables such as sea kale, beets, cauliflower, turnips, parsnips, carrots, celery, peas, broad beans, lentils, chickpeas, olives, hard wheat, and nuts. These were usually eaten with meat dishes. Desserts usually consisted of dried fruits such as figs, dates, raisins, and prunes. The fruits were accompanied by drinks made from syrups of violet, jasmine, aloe, medicinal spices, fruit pastilles, and gums.

Figure 1. On the right: “A rock crystal ewer from the Fatimid period in Cairo, Egypt, dates from the tenth or eleventh century. Ziryab brought crystal to the dinner table in the ninth century, after ’Abbas ibn Firnas introduced it to Al-Andalus, the Arabic name given to the Iberian Peninsula during Muslim rule” 1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization (3rd Edition).

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Note of the Editor: The Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation (FSTC) in partnership with 1001 Inventions published a new edition of the “1001 Inventions: The Enduring Legacy of Muslim Civilization” book. This article is an extract from Chapter 2 of this book.

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“There now resides in Burgos a powerful count, who took my lord to his palace. There also came beautiful damsels and ladies richly adorned in the Morisco[1] fashion, who in their whole appearance and in their eating and drinking followed that fashion.”

This quote was from the Czech traveller, the Baron of Rosmithal, who visited Castile toward the middle of the 15th century and recorded in his diary certain curious notes of the life that he observed.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Weiditz_Trachtenbuch_105-106.jpgFigure 2.  “Moriscos in Granada”, drawn by Christoph Weiditz (1529) – The Moriscos were nominally Christian after enforced conversions at the beginning of the sixteenth century, but they mainly clung to their Islamic ancestral faith, and they were expelled from Spain in 1609–14.  – Wikipedia 

Medieval people from Muslim Civilisation, like many others, ate according to seasonal influences. Typical winter meals used vegetables such as sea kale, beets, cauliflower, turnips, parsnips, carrots, celery, peas, broad beans, lentils, chickpeas, olives, hard wheat, and nuts. These were usually eaten with meat dishes. Desserts usually consisted of dried fruits such as figs, dates, raisins, and prunes. The fruits were accompanied by drinks made from syrups of violet, jasmine, aloe, medicinal spices, fruit pastilles, and gums.

By contrast, their summer diet consisted of 11 types of green beans, radishes, lettuces, chicory, aubergines, carrots, cucumbers, gherkins, watercress, marrow, courgettes, and rice. The meat accompanying these was mainly poultry, ostrich, and beef. Desserts included fruits such as lemon, lime, quinces, nectarines, mulberries, cherries, plums, apricots, grapes, pomegranates, watermelon, pears, apples, and honeydew melon. Drinks were made from syrups and preserves of fruit pastilles, lemon, rose, jasmine, ginger, and fennel.

A great deal of Islamic influence on food consumption and preparation in Europe arrived via the usual Eastern/crusader route. During the Crusades (1095-1291), Western Christians discovered the art of living

“of which at home they could only have had the remotest idea in the form of stories, and travellers’ tales.”

Image Figure 3. “Ottoman Palace Cuisine of the Classical Period” by Arif Bilgin

Soon, they adopted such ways of living. There are many instances of Crusaders, who in the East only ate Eastern foods. Many among them went as far as to refuse to eat pork, “and there is no lack of remarks to this effect,” notes historian M. Erbstosser. The Westerners were served meals consisting of various exotic dishes flavoured with a diversity of spices. Many of the old literary sources indicate that European feudal lords felt pride in having only Muslim cooks, just as in being attended only by Eastern physicians. In this, the Crusaders were following the patterns established elsewhere by William II of Sicily (ruled 1166-1189), who took a Muslim as his head cook.

  • The Muslims of Sicily introduced dried pasta, which could be stored for a long period…
  • Utensils used for eating evolved while in contact with Muslims, again mostly during the Crusades…
  • In Muslim Spain (Al-Andalus), glass was known and already in use at the time of ’Abbas ibn Firnas, who died in 887. In his experiments, he manufactured glass from sand and stone.
  • The first recipe books of the West generally date from the 13th century with two small treatises by Danish author Henrik Harpestraeng (d. 1244), but all recipes bear the name sarasines. And they refer to Saracen[2] sauces, cooked meat, etc.
  • A Catalan cookery book, Libre de Sent Sovi, was kept among the manuscripts of the end of the 14th and early 15th century contains a pattern of secondary diffusion, on how Muslim Mediterranean cooking progressed to the north of Europe; and there are many similar instances.

ImageFigure 4. “Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq’s Tenth-century Baghdadi Cookbook by Nawal Nasrallahthreecourse menu from an anonymous Andalusian [Muslim Spain] cookbook of the 13th century, translated by Charles Perry includes:

  • Starters: Meat Soup with Cabbage
  • Main meal: Mirkas with Fresh Cheese
  • Main meal: Roast in a Tajine
  • Main meal: Fish Tharid
  • Main meal: Roast Chickens
  • Sweet: Tharda of the Emir
  • Drink: Syrup of Pomegranates

Figure 5.Food Production and Food Security Management in Muslim Civilizationby Marwan Haddad

References

[1] Morisco: “Spanish for “Moorish” were former Muslims and their descendants whom the Roman Catholic church and the Spanish Crown commanded to convert to Christianity or compulsory exile after Spain outlawed the open practice of Islam by its sizeable Muslim population (termed mudéjar) in the early 16th century.” Wikipedia Accessed 14/01/2022.
[2] “Saracens were primarily Arab Muslims, but also Turks, Persians or other Muslims as referred to by Christian writers in Europe during the Middle Ages. The term’s meaning evolved during its history. … By the 12th century, Saracen had become synonymous with Muslim in Medieval Latin literature.” Google Arts and Culture

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