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Book takes a culinary journey across the Islamic world


Press Trust of India New Delhi
What is common among these food items: Mkate Wa Ufuta, Tharid, Gulai Kambing Aceh, Kabab Hommus and Haleem?

These are some typical items considered staple during Ramzan among Muslims across the world.
While Mkate Wa Ufuta is a Zanzibari sesame bread served at Iftar with stews or drizzled with honey for a sweet snack, Tharid is a composite dish made of layers of dry bread topped with a stew of meat and vegetables.
Tharid is said to have been one of Prophet Muhammad's favourite dishes, and is an essential part of the Iftar meal.
Gulai Kambing Aceh is a goat curry and a speciality of Aceh, a province at the northern end of Sumatra with the largest concentration of Muslims in Indonesia. It is cooked for Iftar.
Kabab hommus is another essential Iftar food popular in Qatar and the UAE and is basically fritters made with chickpea flour and with pureed tomatoes for a more intense flavour, not to mention the herbs and seasonings.
Haleem is yet another popular dish during Ramzan, with the Hyderabadi version arguably the most famous of the lot.
These are among the more than 300 recipes included in Feast: Food of the Islamic World, which is a comprehensive and dazzling mosaic of Islamic food culture across the globe.
The book, authored by London-based chef-food writer Anissa Helou, represents an extraordinary journey through place and time, travelling from Senegal to Indonesia via the Arab, Persian, Mughal or North African heritage of so many dishes.
This exploration of the foods of Islam begins with bread and its myriad variations, from pita and chapatti to Turkish boreks and Lebanese fatayer. From humble grains and pulses come slow-cooked biryanis, Saudi Arabia's national dish of lamb kabsa and jewelled rice dishes from Iran and Pakistan.
There are also instructions for preparing a whole lamb or camel hump alongside recipes for traditional dips, fresh salads and sharp pickles. And there are sugary sweet treats suitable for births, weddings, morning coffee and after dinner.
The Muslim world whose recipes the author has included in the book, published by Bloomsbury, follows the same arc more or less as that of the conquests during the expansion of Islam: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt in North Africa, finishing in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India in South Asia, and Xinjiang province and Uzbekistan in Central Asia.
In between are Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Jordan, Turkey and Iran in the Levant; the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the Arabian Gulf. On the fringes are countries where the influences are more diffuse, such as Zanzibar, Somalia, Senegal, Nigeria, Malaysia and Indonesia.
According to the author, it wasn't until the Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 and 1261-1517), when Muslims started to develop a rich culinary tradition.
The Abbasid caliphs favoured Persian chefs - the Persians already had splendid courts and a rich culinary tradition - and these chefs brought a whole new culinary knowledge with them, which they then adapted to the taste of their new masters, she writes.
She says the next great Muslim empire was that of the Ottomans (1299-1922/1923) who established Istanbul as the capital and with them, a new culinary influence was born.
Their cooks introduced many innovations and were among the first to quickly adopt new world ingredients.
Helou says that the Mughals founded a refined dynasty that owed a debt to Persian culture. This was evident in their art and literature and in their cooking, which they made their own by using local ingredients and techniques, and using an impressive number of spices, which they almost always toasted before use.
The recipes Helou has included in her book are mostly from countries where these three culinary traditions have developed.
She says from the birth of a child to the circumcision of boys to marriage to burying the dead, every occasion in Islam is marked with special dishes that celebrate, commemorate or comfort, as the case may be.
On food during Ramzan, she says the menu changes according to where one is.
In the Arabian Gulf, the fast is first broken with dates and water before moving on to the main meal, she says.
Then people pray before sitting at the table to partake of their first meal of the day. In the Levant, people break their fast with apricot leather juice, fattoush (a mixed herb and bread salad) and/or lentil soup. In the Maghreb, soup is the first thing people eat after sunset, whereas in Indonesia they break their fast with sweet snacks and drinks known as takjil.

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First Published: May 29 2019 | 1:40 PM IST

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