Drop in blogging for many reasons, none of which are worth mentioning really. In anycase, I had wanted to post bits from Culinary Cultures of the Middle East, so shall do that. It came recommended by Elizabeth and I really enjoyed it even if it did make my stomach grumble and my mouth water!
This from Bert Fragner’s essay in the book, From the Caucuses to the Roof of the World: a culinary adventure:
Apart from the political animosity which pervaded political relations between the Spanish and Austrian Hapsburgs and the Ottomans there also existed a special network of hegemony within which these two superpowers were rivals and partners at the same time. This means that new commercial and consumer goods bought by the Spaniards from the American continents to the European sphere found their immediate way into the Ottoman Empire, even earlier than to other European regions. Therefore, the ‘Indian chicken’ then recently imported from Mexico, was directly transported from Spain to the Ottomans, who took over its denomination as Hindi or Hindi Tavuq (tawuq Hindi in Syrian Arabic until today). The term for this bird in Austrian German, 'Indian', indicates that Habsburg subjects in central Europe became acquainted with it through Ottoman help! So strong was Ottoman hegemony that, as far away as England, the notion of that crisp and tasty poultry as Turkish must have been more deeply ingrained than any awareness of it as ‘Indian’ (i.e. American) origin; in English – an in English-speaking America – it is called ‘turkey’.
I remember bursting into a fit of giggles in class when I found out that the turkey in Turkish is actually called Hindi. My teacher asked me what was so funny, and before I could answer, started chuckling himself. The mixing and forming of cultures is a strange and fascinating thing. Food, music, dance, vocabularies, stories – these are all so fluid, living, constantly evolving.
As Sami Zubaida asserts in his essay National, Communal and Global Dimensions in Middle Eastern Food Cultures, even though the map of the modern world is one of nation states, these states and their societies are subject global influences outside their control. Plus, geographical areas tend to share certain cultural idioms that predate the formation of these states. It’s interesting to see the commonalities in food across the Middle East, Central Asia all the way to northern India. Though as the essay points out there is a sharp difference between foods of the ex-Ottoman empire and the lands between Anatolia through the Iranian plateau to the Hindu Khush and up to the Tarim Basin are quite untouched by Mediterranean food influences.
Then of course there are Central Asian influences as well. Charles Perry in his essay The Taste for Layered Bread among the Nomadic Turks and the Central Asian Origins of Baklava traces the fascination of the nomadic Turks (from Central Asia who began invading Anatolia in the 11th century) with layered breads, drawing the links between the various types of layered breads among the Uyghurs, Uzbeks, Tartars, Kazakhs etc that eventually led to the filo that is the base for the not only the baklava but even the apple strudel.
Dumplings are interesting as well – virtually present in the cooking of every country it seems. Though I would probably guess that they spread from China (dimsum and jiaozi – I love them!) - Uzbek manty and Turkish mantı (see Elizabeths post on manty here – I have only tried the Turkish variety), momos and pelmeni are only some variants. Btw, apparently samosas have Central Asian origins as well – I never knew.
A while back while talking to TAP I mentioned the one Central Asian country I really wanted to visit was Uzbekistan. “Really,” he asked, “why?” I said I wanted to visit Samarkand and Bukhara oh so much. “Wow,” he replied, “You just named two of my favourite restaurants!” (Oh dear, even as I type this I crave the kebabs in Delhi. Sigh – I am such a foodie!). It’s interesting how we have taken kebabs and polow and made them something quite our own as well, isn’t it?
This Saturday when I went for Turkish class I took a box of soan papdi with me (I know it might not be traditional Diwali sweets or so, but hey, Haldiram packages it!). My teacher eyed it a bit suspiciously when I offered it but took one bite and declared “Oh! It’s pişmaniye!” I just knew you would say that I told him as he happily helped himself to another serving. He replied smiling, “Gerçekten, Türkiye ve Hindistan çok benziyor!” I do agree.