How a 13th Century Cookbook Was Rediscovered After Several Centuries
Revisit the history of Spain — with food
Most cookbooks focus on a particular cuisine that’s in the spotlight — or perhaps the work of a chef or restaurant that’s having its moment. If you pick up the new edition of Best of Delectable Foods and Dishes from al-Andalus and al-Maghrib, you’re unlikely to get insights into the hot new food trend of the moment, but that’s all right. The book’s full title, you see, is Best of Delectable Foods and Dishes from al-Andalus and al-Maghrib: A Cookbook by Thirteenth-Century Andalusi Scholar Ibn Razīn al-Tujībī (1227–1293). And if you have any interest whatsoever in the history of cooking — especially that of Spanish cuisine — the story behind this new translation is as compelling as an ornately-produced meal.
At Atlas Obscura, Tom Verde chronicled this cookbook’s history and the unexpected journey it took to the publication of this new edition.As Verde notes, the cookbook itself was written in Tunisia, but focused on the food of the Iberian peninsula during the time when it was under Muslim rule. The period covered in the cookbook doesn’t quite line up precisely with the beginning of the Nasrid dynasty, but it’s relatively close.
The article points out that portions of the cookbook went missing in the 17th century, leaving a host of recipes incomplete — not the ideal condition for recipes to be in. A 2018 discovery in the British Library revealed that a complete copy of the cookbook wasn’t as lost as was previously believed; once that was found, a translation of the full work was possible.
The era the cookbook hails from is one where many cooks worked to find recipes that would meet the dietary guidelines in the faiths of Spain’s Muslims, Christians and Jews — and which also reflected the introduction of new ingredients like eggplants and almonds to the Iberian Peninsula. As the full article notes, some of these recipes reveal more about the society in which they were consumed than one might expect. They also sound delicious — not a bad combination at all.
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