Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Gulf Cooking

I've been in the habit for quite a few years now of buying a cookbook as a souvenir of any new country I visit. I couldn't find anything at all in Dubai, though and one of the guides who took us round told us that there was no local cuisine at all, and until the Fifties people got by on dried fish and dates.

Although I did come home empty handed, I have ordered Cooking of the Gulf: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates from Amazon to fill the gap in my library, but I have also been looking at Alan Davidson's magisterial The Oxford Companion to Food.

Davidson has got significant entries on Arab Cuisine, Arabian Food, and Bedouin Food. In the Oxford Companion, Arab Cuisine refers to the rich and varied food of the entire Arab world; Arabian Food refers to the fare of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman; and Bedouin Food is the stuff eaten by the nomadic herdsmen who lived in the deserts.

Although the Bedouin are legendary for their hospitality, their grub does indeed sound quite forbidding. The routine fare seems to have been a fairly monotonous diet of milk, bread and dates; and small game was simply thrown in the fire to cook in its fur and was eaten in its entirety. Locusts were prepared by roasting over the fire. If not consumed immediately the dried flesh could be ground up into a meal and stored in a skin to be added to stews at a later date.

On the coasts however influences from, and trade with the Ottoman Empire to the North, the Horn of Africa to the West, and India and Iran to the East made the food a lot more varied.

Hopefully the book I have ordered will focus more on this tradition than the old school Bedouin recipes. I am not sure that powdered locust is available even in Tooting market never mind Tesco or Sainsbury's.

(When we were in Dubai, I noticed a poster advertising skiing holidays in Iran. That skewered a few preconceptions although I knew that were strong links between the countries.)

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