Rediscovering Culinary Marvels: 'The Exile’s Cookbook' Reveals Ancient Arabic Recipes

  • Jan. 10, 2024
Rediscovering Culinary Marvels: 'The Exile’s Cookbook' Reveals Ancient Arabic Recipes

In a profound culinary journey, "The Exile’s Cookbook: Medieval Gastronomic Treasures from Al-Andalus and North Africa" unravels the historical connection between food and the yearning for home. Penned by Ibn Razin Al-Tujibi, a significant Andalusian scholar in 13th-century Muslim Spain, and compiled by Daniel Newman, a cultural historian at Durham University, this collection of recipes offers a glimpse into the emotional ties of displaced Muslims and Arabs.

Newman, with a passion for medieval Arab cuisine, has meticulously recreated almost 5,000 dishes over the past 13 years. His banqueting events in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and the UAE have brought these ancient recipes to life, surprising audiences with the richness of this often overlooked culinary heritage.

"The Exile’s Cookbook" presents a comprehensive array of 480 recipes, spanning breads, stews, porridges, truffles, meats, vegetables, sweets, and even instructions for making soaps and powders. Organized by ingredients, the structure is novel, showcasing the seriousness with which Al-Tujibi aimed to preserve a culinary heritage that was more than mere sustenance.

Newman, in translating the texts, marveled at the complexity and sophistication of the cuisine, the multitude of cooking methods within one recipe, and the specialized tools required. The cookbook reflects an elite cuisine, with intricate recipes demanding specific equipment and large ovens not found in average households.

The historical significance is further highlighted by the inclusion of dishes still enjoyed today, demonstrating the lasting impact of Al-Tujibi's work. The original recipes also reveal dishes with familiar names, such as paella with rabbit and date- or fig-filled 'maqrud' sweets.

Little is known about Al-Tujibi, except that he was born in Murcia, Spain, and faced displacement in 1247 during political upheavals. His journey to Tunis became one of exile and geographical exploration, reflecting a personal connection to his native land.

Newman emphasizes the vital role Arabs played in shaping European cuisine during the Middle Ages, introducing ingredients like sugar, carrots, aubergines, and spices. Even Italian staples like pasta and cannoli pastries are believed to have Arab origins.

Al-Tujibi’s culinary preferences shed light on popular ingredients of his time, including meat, dairy, various spices, and an obsession with eggs. Newman believes that Al-Tujibi’s work, although overlooked historically, is a testament to the human connection with food and offers a window into his world.

As we explore the recipes, we embark on a sensory journey, imagining the flavors and aromas that once graced Al-Tujibi’s table. "The Exile’s Cookbook" becomes not just a collection of recipes but a tangible link to a rich culinary tradition, inviting us to savor the past.