Medieval Arab Cookery

By Maxime Rodinson, A.j. Arberry & Charles Perry

A book review by Franz Scheurer


This book contains a collection of essays and translations from different hands at different times. Obviously there are variations in translations and understandings of medieval texts and the collection in this book did not try to ‘streamline’ them all, but leave them in their original form as much as possible.


There is something really captivating about reading historic recipes. It’s a beautiful snapshot in time and it certainly gets our imagination working overtime. As Claudia Roden says in her Foreword: ‘They are an intimate link with the past, revealing the sensuous quality, the tastes and smells den feel of worlds gone by’.


This book by Maxime Rodinson, A.J. Arberry and Charles Perry contain Arab recipes going back as far as the 10th Century and this might be one of the most important books to food historians as it shows the development of Arab dishes in both a sociological and historical context.


The book is divided into:

A Baghdad Cookery Book

Studies in Arabic Manuscripts Relating to Cookery

Romania and other Arabic Words in Italian

Ma’mūniyya East and West

Venice, the Spice Temple and Easter Influences on European Cooking

What to Order in Ninth Century Baghdad

Elements of Arab Feasting

Couscous and its Cousins

Būrān: Eleven Hundred Years int eh History of a Dish

Notes on Persian Pasta

Shorba: A Linguistico-Chemico-Culinary Enquiry

Isfïdhabāj, Blancmange and no Almonds

The EIne Maqāma

The Description of Familiar Foods

Kitāb al-Tibākha: A Fifteenth-Century Cookbook

Medieval Arabic Fish: Fresh, Dried and Dyed

A Thousand and One ‘Fritters’: The Food of The Arabian Nights

The Şalş of the Infidels

Followed by a terrific index of foreign words and a general index.


This book is not light reading and I suggest you read it in small doses so you can digest the information. Only once you have read it all, though, will you get an overview of what this work is all about and it is then that this book will become a revered reference with a place of pride on your bookshelf. It is amazing just how well the Arabs ate centuries ago and astounding to read the techniques used; nothing is ever really new.


I spent a long time in the Middle East eating my way around many countries, tribes and customs and I feel totally at home reading the old texts, but I also appreciate what they are telling me of a life lost forever. If you’re a linguist you will love this book; if you’re a chef you owe it to yourself to read this and if you’re at all interested in food and academia you should try and read this.


My favourite recipe in the book? Summāqīya on page 172 – a recipe from the 13th Century.


ISBN: 0 907325 91 2

RRP: $120

Prospect Books