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A Book of Middle Eastern Food

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2000

    Let the buyer beware!

    The more I have studied Middle Eastern food, the less enthusiastic I have become about this book. After reading the June 20 customer review, I feel I must voice my own reservations. Rather than repeat that reader's criticisms, I wish to point out some additional deficiencies that cast doubt on the credibility of those in the food profession who have praised this book so highly. To begin with, the author doesn't provide essential information on ingredients. Many important ones are not even mentioned. Nor is there any discussion of arak (raki) or of the region's wines. There is nothing on traditional utensils and no menus. Little is said about the culinary specialties of various places. For example, Roden doesn't tell us that karabij (page 404) is an Aleppan specialty; in fact the full Arabic name of this popular pastry is karabij halab (Aleppo karabij). Nor does she mention that both Damascus and Tripoli have long been renowned for their sweets, including ice cream. Her remarks about amardine (page 382) don't include Damascus, a city celebrated for this confection, which it has exported to many parts of the world for centuries. There are glaring mistakes in this book. For instance, the oldest Arab culinary manual that has been found dates not from the twelfth century but from the tenth (page 7). On page 8 Roden implies that Assyrians and Babylonians are something other than Mesopotamians, which, of course, they are not! On page 12 she refers to burghul as 'the Turkish burghul (cracked wheat).' She is wrong on three counts: (1) there is no proof that burghul is Turkish in origin; it may well have been eaten in this area centuries before the Turks arrived; (2) the Turks call this product bulgur, not burghul, which is its Arabic name; and (3) burghul, unlike cracked wheat, is precooked. On page 135 Roden erroneously states that omelets do not appear in early Arab culinary literature. The Kitab al Wusla il al Habib, to which she refers on page 177, was written in the thirteenth (not the twelfth) century and contains 74 (not 500) recipes for chicken. The word for broad brown beans in Arabic is 'ful,' not 'ful medames,' which is the name of a dish using these beans (page 268). The usual conclusion to a Middle Eastern meal is fruit, not sweets (page 373). On page 404 Roden incorrectly identifies soapwort (erh halawa) as bois de Panama. So much for her high standards of scholarship! That this book should have been considered the standard work on Middle Eastern cooking for over a quarter century by many so-called food authorities says a great deal about those who are passing judgment. It is riddled with shortcomings! Though there is as yet no definitive cookbook that covers the entire region, readers may want to look at 'The Complete Middle East Cookbook' by Tess Mallos, which at least includes more countries and contains recipes that are much better written.

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