The culinary culture of a region of the world is not just the set of recipes for preparing delicious dishes. Food can tell the story of a people and the events that have occurred over the centuries. This is what happened in Spain, where the original recipes that were prepared in the XIII century thanks to a librarian and a food historian.
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Rediscovered recipes from 13th century Spain
From about the 8th to the 13th century most of Spain was under the dominion of the Arabs. In the first period of Arab domination, at least the cuisine of the three main religions (Islamism, Christianity and Judaism) coexisted in a climate of tolerance. For example, even the couscousone of the culinary elements associated with the Arab population at the time, was eaten by the Christians of late medieval and modern Spain.
Instead, relations between the Islamic and Christian kingdoms were in a precarious balance mainly kept alive by business. The situation (even in the kitchen) began to change radically with the “Regain”. Ibn Razin al-Tujibi wrote “Fadalat al-Khiwan” (“The best of delicious food and dishes”), a cookbook in which the author transcribed recipes from Moorish Spain before they were completely lost.
The end of food tolerance
The conditions of coexistence, however, did not last forever. In fact, with the beginning of the so-called “Reconquista” (the military campaign to expel the Arabs from the Iberian peninsula) was also established a climate of intolerance in the kitchen that reached its peak in the fifteenth century.
Food had become a symbol of cultural identity. Many Jews and Muslims forced to convert practiced their true faith in secret and they secretly cooked the typical dishes of their tradition. Singular is the example of mock pork ribs (an animal eaten by Christians, but not by the faithful of the other two monotheistic religions). Thick slices of meat were breaded with egg and breadcrumbs, passing them off as ribs. The deception was made more real by the smell wafting from a real pork rib placed on the fire (which was not eaten).
The book of Ibn Razin al-Tujibi
“Fadalat al-Khiwan” was composed around to 1260 in Tunis. The cookbook consists of over 475 recipes, which have survived time thanks to copies made over the centuries. However, some of them were lost or arrived today apparently unfinished.
In 2018, the turning point. The Dr. Bink Hallum (curator of Arab scientific manuscripts of the British Library) discovered within a medieval Arab pharmacology text pages that looked like a complete copy of al-Tujibi’s book. Confirmation then came from the food historian Nawal Nasrallah.
Fortunately, the historical and culinary heritage consists of the recipes of Moorish Spain it has not been lost entirely, even if it came close due to the intolerance of men. Now these dishes can find new life thanks to the reinterpretations of today’s chefs, as happened in Ristorante La Vara a Brooklyn.