in Al-Andalus was an international affair, flavored by the
tastes of India, the Spice Islands, Persia, Africa, and
places in between from which cultural elements were gathered
and brought to the Iberian Peninsula with the Muslims. Herbs
and spices like basil, saffron, coriander, jasmine, and mint
and spices such as ginger, aniseed, tamarind, cloves, and
cinnamon combined exotic imported plants with those that
were native to the Mediterranean climate of Spain.
transfer of new crops, from sugar cane to grains, fruits,
and vegetables, was aided by irrigation systems and trade
connections in the Muslim lands. Eggplants, artichokes,
melons, bananas, spinach, figs, dates, citrus fruits, and a
wide variety of nuts and seed crops for oil were added to
the native plants known in Roman times.
Persian, and Central Asian cooking combined with foods from
India that had reached Iran in pre-Islamic times, and then
spread rapidly westward along the Mediterranean. Abbasid
Baghdad was a meeting place for cuisines collected by the
empires that had flourished there in previous centuries. A
10th century literary dictionary of Baghdad
listed a dozen cookbooks. Food fashions spread among the
newly wealthy families of elite Abbasid era society.
urban and urbane societies of Córdoba, Seville, Valencia and
Granada, and in the lesser cities and countryside, farming
and cooking arts flourished and combined in new ways. Ziryab,
the musician who brought fashionable ideas from the east,
also brought the idea of different courses for a meal and
table manners. Some cookbooks from the time survived, but
even more, ways of preparing food and combining ingredients
passed from cook to cook, despite the turmoil of exile,
conquest, conversion, and migration that happened to the
Muslims and Jews of Al-Andalus.
the ways of cooking and eating habits that can still be
recognized in Spain and Portugal today are:
food from a communal dish, such as paella (the rice, saffron
and seafood dish), and prepared grains like semolina and
of coriander, cumin, and saffron for savory and sweet
dishes; meats, rice, fish, and beans
stews using chickpeas, lentils and other beans, and cracked
wheat; these were brought from North Africa and the eastern
Mediterranean, and as far away as India (Mexican mole sauce
dishes are believed to have come from this tradition)
Fritters like doughnuts, and desserts with almonds,
cinnamon, and other ingredients
Flatbreads, thin pasta, grilled meats and shish kebabs
vegetables and fruits like eggplant, artichoke, quinces, and
apricots, among many other foods that made their way
westward from Asia.
invention of pasta or macaroni is claimed by many cultures,
and multiple claims may be true. One sure way to trace the
invention of pasta is the parallel spread of hard, or durum
wheat. Durum wheat, unlike soft bread wheat, contains less
moisture and more gluten (protein), which makes the stretchy
dough that can be rolled and shaped. Durum wheat can also be
stored for a long time. Where only soft wheat was grown,
pasta wasn’t possible.
Scholars trace the movement of durum wheat from Central Asia
across the Muslim lands through literary sources. Spain and
Sicily under Muslim rule were both places where pasta was
mentioned and durum wheat or semolina was grown. Andalusian
geographer Ahmad al-Razi described hard wheat in Toledo in
the 9th century CE, saying, "The air [of Toledo]
is excellent and grain stays a long time without changing."
is repeated by other writers, and a 13th century
Andalusian cookbook contains early references to macaroni --
round balls, thin sheets, and long noodles like vermicelli.
The Arabic name for pasta is
itriya, a word
that spread with variations into other languages, including
and familiar word tria or
trij in Italian.
introduction of sugar cane and its refining process was also
crucial to certain foods. Sweetened, spiced or herbed fruit
drinks known in Arabic as
(pronounced shar-BAAT) were made into the pinnacle of luxury
at the Andalusian courts by adding to them ice carried from
the mountain snows. Many a traveler would never forget them.
Some sweet drinks had medicinal qualities and were used in
concentrated form as the sweetened syrups that made bitter
medicine go down, such as cough syrups.
is also a preservative, and summer fruits could be kept in
an even more delicious form when dried, like figs or dates,
or candied like oranges, cherries, or ginger slices. Boiling
in sugar syrup made fruit preserves such as jams and jellies
which could be kept for months. Candied pumpkin turned
ordinary squash into an Andalusian treat, for example, or
quince jam made an inedible but healthful fruit delicious.
very likely that scholars who came to Toledo to feast on the
libraries of scientific works in the 11th century
also feasted their sweet-tooth on the famous confection of
that city: marzipan. Just as the scientific literature
crossed the Pyrenees, so did that candy (Arabic=
qandi) made of
almonds and sugar. Something like it may have originated in
Central Asia, but marzipan became an art form in Al-Andalus.
made possible by the Arab introduction of sugar to the
Iberian Peninsula, combined with almond trees so plentiful
that the Andalusian hills looked as if they were covered in
snow when they bloomed. As early as 700 CE, Arab writers
mention marzipan, and by the 11th century in
Toledo, it had become a Christmas custom among the Spanish
Christians. It then spread into northern Europe, where it is
still a traditional holiday treat.
more dishes and types of food might be mentioned, and with
the flow of people today between North Africa and Europe,
the earlier conquest by cookstove is being repeated in the
21st century, restoring some of the cuisine of
Al-Andalus to Spain.
“The Cuisine of Al-Andalus.”
Saudi Aramco World
Magazine, 40:5 (September/October
1989). pp. 28-35.
Laudan. “The Mexican Kitchen’s Islamic Connection.”
Saudi Aramco World
Magazine, 55:3 (May/June 2004). pp. 32-39.
W. Lebling, Jr. “Flight of the Blackbird.”
[Hotlink to same article
under Tab 4, Arts & Science]
Saudi Aramco World
Magazine, 54: 4 (July/August 2003). pp. 24-33.
Clifford A. Wright. “Did You Know? Some facts about
Mediterranean food history,” History of Macaroni at
Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina of Robakovna. “Medieval
Pasta: History, Preparation, and Recipes,” retrieved at
Andalusian dishes from
Saudi Aramco World photo archive, featured in Tor
Eigeland article, above.
Medieval image of pasta production from the
Tacuinum of Vienna
(Nationalbib. ms. ser. nova 2644). the Theatrum of the
Casanatense Library, Rome (ms. 4182), 15th
century, in “Medieval Pasta: History, Preparation, and
Recipes,” by Dame Katja Davidova Orlova Khazarina of
Robakovna, retrieved at
Lubecker marzipan at
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