“A Thousand and One Dinners” by Charles Perry
Who knew that that famous collection of Arabic tales opened a window on the cuisine of the Middle Ages? In fact, The Thousand and One Nights mentions dishes of meat, poultry and fish, lots of pastries, even wine. The book’s first translators, alas, had little idea of what these dishes were. Now that medieval Arab cookbooks are available to us, we can at last know what “The Lad Who Ate Zirbaja” actually ate, why the cook shop owner in “The Tale of the Two Wazirs” was threatened with crucifixion for leaving out the pepper in the dish of pomegranate seeds, and what on earth all those fritters were that the translators keep mentioning.
Charles Perry is an author and food scholar who has presented papers at the annual Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery since 1981 and was a major contributor to The Oxford Companion to Food. His specialty is the cuisine of the Islamic world; he has translated several medieval Arabic cookbooks, most recently Scents and Savors (NYU Press, 2017), the “best seller” of the 13th century. He is also an expert on California’s culinary history, having been a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times food section for 18 years and a veteran of numerous TV and radio appearances.