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The Mexico- India Connection?

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#1 caroline

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Posted 10 September 2003 - 10:43 AM

So what, if anything, is the India-Mexico connection that so many of us think we perceive? My guess is that there's clearly an Atlantic connection. There may be a rather different Pacific connection.

The Atlantic connection is not one of influence but of membership in a family of cuisines. They all descended from what you might call the Perso-Islamic cuisine that was created for the rich between the 8th and 13th centuries in cities such as Cairo, Damascus and, above all, Baghdad.

Although there were lots of regional variations, certain common patterns can be seen:

A preference for rice and white bread over other possible starches. The rice was usually cooked pilau/pilaf style by first sauteeing in fat or oil and then adding an aromatic liquid. It was often a main dish rather than an accompaniment. The bread was often leavened to some extent or other.

A preference for the flesh of lamb and goat. This was frequently stewed or simmered, often manipulated by grinding, pounding etc.

A repertoire of sauces aromatized by nuts, spices or herbs, thickened by the same plus bread, and quite often soured using citrus or other fruits or vegetables (but usually not vinegar).

A passion for working out ways of using cane sugar very often in connection with fruits, sometimes with nuts or vegetables. Think lightly sweetened fruit drinks, syrups, jams, pastes, and confections (with an elaborate technical terminology that goes right across the region).

An enthusiasm for fine and novel fruits and vegetables which were traded, smuggled and stolen across the region.

From the eighth century on, the "Moors" established a version of this cuisine in Spain where it was elaborated for centuries. With the Reconquista that also went on for centuries and only finally ended when the last Moors capitulated in 1492 (big year) it was eventually christianized (pork, wine, etc.) to what I'm inclined to call Hapsburg Cuisine after the family that controlled most of South Europe and a good bit of the north too. Charles V, the most thrusting of the Hapsburg monarchs, was the ruler to whom Cortez reported. And it was the cuisine that went to Mexico.

And in India, a series of merchants, missionaries and invaders established outposts of Perso-Islamic cuisine from the eighth century on. This series of incursions culminated with the Mughals who arrived from Central Asia via Persia at exactly the same moment that Cortez was marching across the central valley of Mexico. The various Mughal emperors established their version of the cuisine in northern India, albeit with some modifications to local circumstances.

So, I think, pilaus in India and sopa secas in Mexico, "curries" in India and adobos, moles, etc in Mexico, sharbats etc in India and aguas frescas in Mexico.

Subsequently many of the cuisines between Mexico and India changed more dramatically than those at the two ends of this culinary belt. Spain and Italy adopted more elements from northern Europe than Mexico ever did. The Ottomans who had the same roots as the Mughals never adopted Perso-Islamic cuisine to the extent that the Mughals did so that they transformed the cuisine of the eastern Mediterranean in a different way. And Iran and Iraq? They seem to be pretty much black holes where later culinary history is concerned.

The Pacific connection is more speculative. Cross Pacific trade between Manila and Acapulco began in the late sixteenth century (at least as far as the Spanish were concerned) and as Sun-Ki has pointed out, the Filipino scholar (one-woman dynamo might be a better description), Doreen Fernández, traced lots of food connections between the Philippines and Mexico. We also know that Mexico adopted Asian pottery making techniques, imported silkworms and set up a silk industry (resbozos) etc. So a lot was going on.

And Manila was a hub of trade in Southeast Asia at the time and Indian merchants were a major force. In Mexico the so-called China Poblana (Chino or China being a generic word for Asian, Poblano for the city of Puebla where she lived a distinguished life) is an emblematic figure even today. It seems she was a girl from a Hindu family from South India, a region that had evolved elaborate cuisines in palaces and temples. She might have been too young on arrival to have influenced the food of Puebla.

But if she arrived, why not a fair number of others from her region? And it is crystal clear from culinary history that you don't need a mass migration to effect change. A few key individuals can do it.

This is an embarassingly superficial take on about a thousand year history so please do point out all the flaws!

Rachel
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#2 guajolote

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Posted 10 September 2003 - 11:10 AM

Do you think chiles were transported more via the Pacific route than the Atlantic one? It seems they have "caught on" more in Asia than Europe.


#3 caroline

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Posted 11 September 2003 - 05:58 AM

My guess is that, like maize, they went both ways. In any case they went like lightening. I wouldn't be blown away with suprize if one day ethnobotanists or archaeologists confirmed some cross-Pacific connections before the Spanish. But that would be pretty hard to establish,

Rachel
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#4 skchai

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Posted 27 September 2003 - 11:21 PM

It took a long time for me to post anything to this thread! I couldn't think anything intelligent to say - and unfortunately I still have nothing that coherent - just a few scattered remarks.

First, Rachel, while a number of people have noticed the similarities between Mexican and Indian cuisines, you have really done the best job so far of providing a plausible and historically grounded explanation of why this might be. As you imply, the foods of India (particularly the North) and Mexico reflect the lingering influence of classic Arab cuisine that has long since faded in Western Europe under the great culinary waves of the 17th and 18th centuries. I look forward to reading more about these grand cultural movements across time and space in your upcoming history of world food!

As you note, the ancestry of some common practices in Mexican and Indian cookery remain controversial. Here are my speculations on a few practices of this nature, though of course without much evidence:

* Nut-thickening, as is found in Mexican moles and North Indian / Pakistani kormas, is quite likely a Moorish influence. "Korma" itself is word of a Persian or Arab derivation, and is most prominent as a highlight of Mughlai cookery, which was brought over by the Mughal court from their Persian / Afghan ancestral homes. Moles were developed in the Mexican convents, and thus largely reflected Spanish upper-class cookery, which in turn reflected an Arab heritage.

* The prevalence of flatbreads in both cultures is likely something that developed independently of Moorish influence. In Sophie Coe's book, there are long passages taken from Sahagun, some of which speak of "tortillas" as being a common food of the Aztecs during the time shortly following conquest. Indian chapatis and parathas are unlike Arab/Persian-influenced flatbreads (such as naan, kulcha, and shirmal) in that they are made from wholemeal flour and are unleavened, and similar products are described in palace records dating back to the early 12th century, according to Achaya's Indian Food: A Historical Companion.

* The most obvious parallel - the spiciness of the cuisines. A number of caveats are needed here: First, there are great variations in flavorings used across regions within large and multifaceted land masses such as India and Mexico. Furthermore, the vague term "spiciness" can refer to a wide variety of disparate flavoring practices. The Aztec-inspired use of many varieties of chillies is clearly indigenous, while the use of cinammon, cloves, and other perfumed Southeast Asian spices in moles reflects Spanish-Arab influences. Likewise, the cardomon, royal cumin, and saffron of Mughlai cuisine are a far cry from the "chilli-hotness" of rural Andhra cuisine, which is of course a debt India and the rest of the world owes to the Americas.

Your remarks about the China Poblano were fascinating, and brings to mind the hybrid cuisine of the so-called "Mexican Hindus" of the Imperial and Central Valleys in California. These were the offspring of male immigrants from colonial India who came to California in the early part of the 20th century as farm workers, and of their Mexican wives. The term is somewhat of a misnomer since most of these men were in fact Punjabi Sikhs. In Yuba City, N. Cal., there are a number of gurdwaras serving the needs of both long-time and more recent Sikh immigrants. Karen Leonard's Making Ethnic Choices provides a nice overview of their history. Though the influence of their cuisine seems fairly minimal and I haven't been able to find any recipes, anecdotes about "Hindu tacos" and curried enchiladas does pique my curiosity.

Edited by skchai, 28 September 2003 - 12:49 AM.

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#5 Suvir Saran

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 12:18 AM

Thanks Caroline and Skchai! :smile:

Amazing posts from both of you... how much one learns on eGullet. Thanks!

#6 fifi

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 09:49 AM

The only thing that I can add to these excellent posts...

I had the privilege of meeting an amazing woman. She has her doctorate in anthropology and archeology and is connected with the museum in Mexico City. I was commenting to her about the odd features on the Olmec sculptures. She said... "Oh, well, everyone knows that the Chinese came here long before the Spanish." HUH? She admits that the hypothesis is controvesial and that there is no evidence that they ever took anything back across the Pacific, like chiles. But, she is convinced that they at least made one way trips and the evidence is mounting.
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#7 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 10:38 AM

Fifi -- My sister is an anthropologist, and we have had similar discussions. I may be wrong, but I don't think that hypothesis is as controversial as it once was. In other words, the idea is that there were early migrations across the Bering Sea and then south down the N.A. continent, and also migrations across the Pacific to South America, Mexico and then north.

#8 fifi

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Posted 28 September 2003 - 04:04 PM

What started my discussion with this great lady was that I had been to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston just before this trip. They had a special exhibit of Olmec pottery. The most spectacular exhibit was all of these miniature figurines of people doing everyday things. The range of emotions in those little figures was amazing. Some of them were hilarious. With that kind of realism, I couldn't believe that the facial features were symbolic but must have represented the reality. I have read that there have been characteristic ancient Chinese stone boat anchors found off the west coast of Oregon, I think. If there was trans-Pacific contact, why didn't they take back something as distinctive as chiles? Or maybe they did and academia has ignored that since it doesn't "fit" the Eurocentric model. Sorry, but I am a skeptic when it comes to "assumed truth".
Linda LaRose aka "fifi"

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#9 Vikram

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Posted 29 September 2003 - 08:01 AM

An interesting thread, with lots to think about. I'm not sure I've understood Rachel's post entirely, so forgive me is this goes a bit off track, but it made me think of an exchange I had on another list on the subject of Indian ways of cooking turkey.

I posted some a recipe from Bombay's East Indian community (a local Christian community which decided to call themselves East Indians after the East India company to distinguish themselves from Goan Catholics. The small logical oddity of being East Indians in Western India seems to have been overlooked) which an Australian friend of mine, of Anglo Indian origin, got excited about.

My friend had lived for many years in Latin America and knew a lot about Iberian-origin culture and was convinced by a similar thesis to Rachel's, that there are many links in areas like cooking, or poetry, which are due to Islamic influences. He died earlier this year or I'd ask him for more information, but here's the turkey recipe he saw as a similar link, though in this case he makes the connection through Sephardi Jews who were present up and down the West coast of India. I'll quote the links almost in full, first my post:

Turkey recipes aren't commonly found in India, even though, ironically, the word for turkey in some Western languages implies it comes from India. Like dindon (d'inde) in French and, according to Hobson Jobson, in the past turkey has been called Calecutische Hahn (Calicut hen) in German.

I think the only community that eats turkey on a regular basis are the Chettiars in Tamil Nadu. Chettiars have a passion for birds of any kind and one common feature in their feasts is a big thali with different types of birds - chicken, duck, pigeon, quail, partridge, guinea fowl, turkey - either cooked dry (varuval) or in a curry (poriyal).

You can also occasionally get this in a few places in Madras like Velu Military Home ('military' being Madras code for a non-vegetarian restaurant). I think there is a Chettiar Turkey Roast recipe, though I don't know if the bird is kept whole. I could get this recipe if you like - it'll be pretty spicy.

Otherwise roast turkey was only eaten in India by the Brits. Presumably Anglo-Indians would have eaten it as well (Quentin could tell us), but I checked Patricia Brown's book on Anglo Indian food and it doesn't have a turkey recipe. Lobo's manual on Mangalorean Christian cooking, also a good source for this sort of thing, does have a roast turkey recipe but it seems like a replica of a Brit one, with a stuffing based on pork and breadcrumbs.

This is presumably similar to the recipe used in the clubs which are the last bastions of the Raj style cooking today. They certainly serve turkey for Christmas - I was in Farm Products, the excellent meat shop in Colaba the other day, and heard the owner taking an order for 26 turkeys for the Willingdon Club - but the couple of times I've eaten it, its been totally bland and uninteresting.

An friend of mine from Bombay's East Indian community has a mother who's an excellent cook, and she suggested adapting their usual chicken stuffing, which is (quantities for chicken so increase suitably):

Cut one loaf of bread into small pieces and brown in ghee. Chop two large onions and fry them (separately, not with the bread) until light brown, then add a few chopped green chillies and a small piece of fresh ginger grated, half a teaspoon of sugar, two teaspoons each of chopped mint and parsley (I think she means green coriander here), and the chopped liver, heart and gizzards from the bird. After that's fried, add the fried bread cubes, some chopped bacon, a few chopped almonds and one carrot, one potato and quarter cup peas (all vegetables cooked before and chopped). Season with salt, pepper, cinnamon and some lime juice. Stir well, adding some water or broth. Cool and stuff it in the bird.

I have to say she didn't sound particularly interested in this, since she says she doesn't like turkey. Perhaps it would be better to go with the recipe used by another friend, a Syrian Christian married to a Goan. He first injects the bird all over with a mix of butter and orange juice, with some garam masala added for excitement and then makes a stuffing by frying huge quantities of onions along with garam masala and the liver, heart and gizzards and then bulking it out with a lot of crumbled toast.


Now Quentin's response:

I think Vikram is probably right, and the turkey in India may be essentially British, although I wonder about that in a way too, as it is essentially a North American bird (hence it's role in American Thanksgiving). I hardly ever came across it when I lived in South America. Dalrymple's "White Mughals" (which is fantastic and I highly recommend it, particularly to Anglo-Indians and Indians who don't realise how many Europeans became "Indian") has intrigued me in relation to American involvement in pre-Raj and Raj India. So perhaps turkey may have had a slightly different entry to India than just through British ex-pats, and may also have come with Americans (even though they may have been pro-British Americans, although some seemed to have sided more with the French).

The stuffing recipes Vikram quotes are interesting in that they seem to be either Persian, or possibly Portuguese. They might even be Sefardic. Bread (migas - crumbs, fresh or fried), almonds, orange juice (which might easily have been Seville or bitter orange rather than sweet), mint and parsley, are all give aways. It could really have been parsley originally, which might later have been substituted for green coriander, as parsley is both a middle eastern AND an Iberian herb.

That it might be Sefardic, or Sefardic influenced, is supported by the lack of milk in the recipe. Iberian non-kosher bread stuffings are often soaked in milk to mush the bread crumbs (warning, Spanish and Portuguese "breadcrumbs" are very unlike "English" breadcrumbs, as they are usually made from the centre of the bread, rather than including the brown crust. Even today many Hispanics will open a bread roll, and remove the doughy centre, the migas, which they then throw away, or reserve for other uses). I'm going to check Claudia Roden's "Book of Jewish Cooking" tonight to see if she has any turkey recipes, or stuffing like this. She has a number of very good Indian Jewish recipes, including several from Jewish families I know in Cochin.

So, I think Vikram's advice is right. Look to Indianised Parsi, or Portuguese recipes, especially stuffings. Goanese or Cochinese adaptations would be good templates, and again, as Vikram suggested, Kerala Syrian Christian food might also give some ideas.

On the Cochin front, I had a fantastic Christmas lunch with the D'Cruz and D'Rosario families there a couple of years ago, which included a very special Anglo-Indian Portuguese variant on Roast Beef (actually Buffalo). Now I don't eat beef, so I only had a guilty little taste, but it was a leg, marinated with garlic (inserted into slits), and rubbed with a bit of lime and strewn with crushed black pepper and fresh chili, then roasted. The very special part though was AFTER it was cooked it was sliced, and then refried with crushed cumin and a bit more garlic (this is both av ery Kerala AND a very Portuguese thing), and served with a sauce of mustard and the crushed bark of the drumnstick tree (at least that's what I think they said it was). It was scrumptious, and I started to wish I ate beef. Personally, I think the recipe would adapt quite well to roast lamb (but might not be so good with mutton if it is tough). Goat/bakra might be good this way too. The Mopla's, Kerala Muslims, do something in the Kerala Meat Fry style with goat that isn't far off (Vikram, is that Oolarthu??).

Quentin (salivating)


PS: I have checked Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Cookery now, and yep, there are turkey recipes, and stuffing that is pretty much as Vikram described.

I also checked a couple of Spanish cookery books, and same story, particularly the Andalucian one's (if anyone is interested I can translate one of the recipes). Intersting tidbit, apparently when the Turkey was intriduced to Spain it was the monopoly product of the Jesuit's for nearly 100 years, and is still sometimes referred to as "the Jesuit".


I'd be interested if others also see an Iberian link in the recipe. Its quite possible - the East Indians were originally converted by the Portuguese.

BTW, everyone knows of chillies as one link between Mexico and India, but the other plant that tends to be overlooked is the sapodilla which is very strongly established in India, especially in the South. Most people don't even imagine it came from Mexico, though the local name is a giveaway - chickoo, which presumably links to the chicle from its sap,

Vikram

#10 caroline

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Posted 29 September 2003 - 10:40 AM

Lots to think about. For now I'll just concentrate on Sun-Ki's post (and forgive me, I don't seem to be abe to get the quote key working as it should).


I agree that nut thickening is Moorish and probably of Persian origin. I don't know of other traditions that use nut-thickening on a regular basis.

And I also agree that [QUOTE The prevalence of flatbreads in both cultures is likely something that developed independently of Moorish influence. ] Both the material and the technique of tortilla making is very different from Indian breads. And India clearly had breads before the Mughals and the traditions, as I understand it (though I bow to those who know the various bread traditions of India infinitely better than I do) remain distinct as Sun-Ki ponts out.

And yes spicing varies. The English language is terrible at distinguishing these tastes. Spanish at least distinguishes piquante (spicy hot), caliente (termperature hot), and condimentado (seasoned). (Do various Indian languages have useful distinctions, I wonder? Some of you must know). Most Mexican cooking of Spanish-Moorish origin is not particularly piquante, chiles being used for thickening, for color and for flavor more than for heat, at least in my experience. And they do use cumin, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon etc.

So thanks for the clarifications Sun-Ki. And for the fascinating tidbit on the California "Hindus."

Rachel
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#11 tryska

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Posted 29 September 2003 - 11:00 AM

well i guess i'm not so far when i explain to my friends that making a curry is similar in technique to making tex-mex chili - the difference is in the spicing.

#12 Shiewie

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Posted 05 April 2005 - 10:54 PM

Bumping this up to the top - I recently stumbled onto an article written by caroline on this topic titled The Mexican Kitchen's Islamic Connection. It's beautifully written and totally fascinating.

#13 esperanza

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Posted 06 April 2005 - 06:57 AM

It most certainly is beautifully written and totally fascinating--and by our own Rachel Laudan, who posts here (even in this thread) as caroline. It's a great article, Rachel.

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#14 touaregsand

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Posted 06 April 2005 - 12:31 PM

I had the privilege of meeting an amazing woman. She has her doctorate in anthropology and archeology and is connected with the museum in Mexico City. I was commenting to her about the odd features on the Olmec sculptures. She said... "Oh, well, everyone knows that the Chinese came here long before the Spanish." HUH? She admits that the hypothesis is controvesial and that there is no evidence that they ever took anything back across the Pacific, like chiles. But, she is convinced that they at least made one way trips and the evidence is mounting.


I think Manchurian would be more accurate than Chinese. Map of Manchuria before the Chinese too over.

I'd be interested if others also see an Iberian link in the recipe. Its quite possible - the East Indians were originally converted by the Portuguese.


The Moors were in Portugal as well.

The high cuisine of medieval Islam, one of the most sophisticated the world had seen, flourished from the eighth century on. It originated in Baghdad, where cooks had the advantage of being able to adapt a Persian cuisine that had developed over the past thousand years, and it was quickly adopted in the other cities of Islam. With the diffusion of Islam, the cuisine was transplanted to new territories. One of the most important was the Iberian Peninsula, whose southern two-thirds came under Arab rule in the eighth century.


Fascinating article, certainly well researched.

The Moors in Spain were Berbers and Arabs from North Africa. A link to Iraq and Persian cuisine in Moorish cooking is very sketchy. A Persian connection seems more likely to have happened during Ottoman Rule in North Africa which began after the Moors were expelled from Spain and Portugal.

#15 Hector

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Posted 06 April 2005 - 02:39 PM

Do you think chiles were transported more via the Pacific route than the Atlantic one? It seems they have "caught on" more in Asia than Europe.

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The chillies where not popular among the spanish so much, but it was the portugese who discovered the magic of the chillies which the spanish bought to Europe. and planted them on wathever soil they went to.. wether it was the shores of Angola, East Africa, Arabia, Indonesia, India, and China.. they introduced the chillies everywhere. and portugeses always rounded the Cape Of Good Hope when they set sail from Portugal. That's the story.. The same goes for oranges. In many countries.. oranges i called "portokal" or similar, because it was the portugese who bought them.

#16 touaregsand

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Posted 06 April 2005 - 03:08 PM

The Portuguese even introduced the pepper to Korea.

Can anyone even imagine Korean cooking without it?

#17 Milagai

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Posted 28 June 2005 - 09:46 AM

not sure if these have been covered:

the popularity of cumin in indian and mexican cuisine,
wide use of cilantro

i have a technical question which may add more to
the list of similarities:

is queso fresco similar to paneer?

is panela similar to khoa?

thanks
milagai

#18 caroline

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Posted 29 June 2005 - 09:39 AM

Milagai,

Yes, queso fresco and paneer are very similar. I don't think panela (a skim milk cheese) is similar to khoa which as I understand it is a boiled down milk fudge. But there are things that are similar. Cajeta is like a thick rabadi. And there are lots of milk fudge sweets with various names that are equivalent to khoa.

This is all a bit of a mystery because these come, I believe, more from Hindu cooking than Muslim, hence the connection I posit may not work for these parallels.

Cumin and coriander certainly occur in both. Cumin is not as common in Mexican food by a long shot as it is in Tex-Mex. Coriander is enormously widely used fresh though I have never seen coriander seeds used in Mexico.

And this gives me the chance to respond to Touragsand's comments that had escaped my notice earlier. Agreed that many of the Moors were Arabs and Berbers from North Africa. And granted that thanks to this the cooking of al-Andalus was distinct in various ways that scholars are still working out

But I hold out for the connection to the Mesopotamian-Persian tradition of Islamic cooking. The Ottoman connection is too late and Ottoman cuisine comes largely from the Turkic tradition of Islamic food. It is not similar to what we see in Mexico.

On the other hand the court cuisine of Cordoba of the (say) late eighth century looked to the eastern Mediterranean, to Syria and ultimately to Baghdad. For example, the musician and style-setter Zyryab, introduced the customs, including the culinary customs of his homeland.

I'd welcome debate and comments,

Rachel

Edited for typos again

Edited by caroline, 29 June 2005 - 09:41 AM.

Rachel Caroline Laudan

#19 chefzadi

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Posted 29 June 2005 - 11:38 AM

But I hold out for the connection to the Mesopotamian-Persian tradition of Islamic cooking.


I wouldn't argue that is not correct to a certain degree. But I find it too Arab-centric. Along the way to the Iberain peninsula the Arabs (The Moors by the way were Amazigh led dynasties) picked up Amazigh and Sub-Saharan elements.

Apologies for starting something that I do not have to the time to continue with on the boards at the moment. But I would be more than glad to send you some copies of my writings on the subject when they are complete.
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#20 Richard Kilgore

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Posted 02 July 2005 - 01:25 PM

Here's a link to another discussion of Rachel's article, The Mexican Kitchen's Islamic Connection.





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