Some Extant Medieval Near and Middle Eastern Cookbooks

There is a vast multitude of modern ethnic cookbooks of varying quality. Many make vague unsubstantiated claims to being "ancient". Don't trust these claims. Food, like clothing, in the Near and Middle East has changed immensely in the past 200 years, so imagine how much it must have changed since the 16th century.

I'm not saying don't cook modern Near and Middle Eastern food - i do it for myself and my friends - i'm just saying don't imagine that it's anything like food of the varied regions of the Near and Middle East in SCA period.

There are recipes from quite a few historical cookbooks surviving. So i wonder why people continue to cook modern Near and Middle Eastern food when so many delicious recipes from "SCA-period" still exist.

There's lots of information for PERIOD Middle Eastern, yet so many NON-PERIOD Middle Eastern feasts... that a PERIOD Middle Eastern Feast would be good.

Banish pita bread, tabbouleh, hummus bi-tahini!
Make REAL Medieval Middle Eastern food.

Here are the sources i am familiar with... there may be others i have not yet come across.

  1. Ibn Sayyâr al-Warrâq, al-Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes), 10th century compendium of recipes from the 9th and 10th centuries CE.
  2. al-Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes), a 13th C. CE manuscript commonly known as "al-Baghdadi".
  3. The 13th C. CE anonymous Andalusian Cookbook
  4. Fadalat al-Jiwan fi Tayyibat al-t·am wa-l-alwan (Highlights of the table, on dishes and stews) also from 13th C. al-Andalus.
  5. Kanz al-fawa'id fi tanwi' al-mawa'id from 13th C. Egypt
  6. Wusla ila'l-habib fi wasf al-tayyabat wa'l-tib from 13th C. Syria
  7. al-Kitab Wasf al-At'ima al-Mu'tada (The Book of the Description of Familiar Foods), 1373, which includes a confectioner's manual.
  8. Yin-shan Cheng-Yao, a 14th C. Turko-Mongol medicinal and dietary book with recipes, written in Chinese, but containing Central Asian core-Turkic food.
  9. eighty-two late 15th C. Ottoman recipes which were appended to a translation into Eski Osmanlici of al-Baghdadi's cookbook. The translator was Mehmed ibn Mahmoud Shirvani, an Azerbaijani from the city of Shirvan
  10. The Ni'matnama Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu, a late 15th and early 16th c. Moghul recipe and medicinal book written in Urdu.
  11. The Ain-i Akbari, a part of the Akbarnamah, a late 16th C. Moghul gazetteer of food, including market price lists and recipes.
  12. Nuskha-e-Shahjahani, a mid-17th C. Moghul cookbook written in Persian.
And, finally, some SCAdians have worked out various recipes into modern format. While these are easier to use than the original recipes, they are interpretations, and are not necessarily absolutely correct. So i recommend you try to work out your own.

(1.) 9th & 10th C. 'Abbasid

al-Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes)

by Abu Muhammad al-Muzaffar ibn Nasr ibn Sayyar al-Warraq
late 10th century

This is a a late 10th century compendium of recipes from 'Abbasid cookbooks from the 9th and 10th centuries CE that are now lost to us.The compiler is sometimes referred to in food literature as "al-Warraq", and sometimes as "ibn Sayyar". The original included forty recipes from cookbooks by the great gastronome Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi (779-839 CE), half-brother of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, as well as by Abu Samin, a chef to the Caliph al-Wathiq who died in 847 CE.

Some of these recipes have been translated by David Waines into English (and French). I have found these recipes nowhere else. I'm just sorry that Waines didn't translate the whole thing. But the recipes that are here are quite wonderful.

David Waines
In a Caliph's Kitchen
Riad El-Rayyes Books Ltd.: London UK, 1989
ISBN 1-869844-60-2

This book is out of print. Further, it was published in a small printing with limited distribution, so it's hard to find a used copy. And finally, the publisher moved to Lebanon some time ago. But it's well worth ILL-ing (Inter-Library Loan)

Also published in French as:
La Cuisine des califes
L'Orient gourmand series
Sindbad/Editions Actes Sud: Arles, France, 1998
ISBN 2-7427-1798-6

Waines' introductory essays on cuisine and kitchens, as well as the recipes that he translated from the compendium of 9th and 10th century recipes, and his commentaries on each recipe are excellent. Waines also included a number of recipes from Arberry's translation of al-Baghdadi - at least i assume that's where he got the al-Baghdadi recipes, since the translations appear to be identical to Arberry's (see below). But IGNORE Waines' WAY OFF THE MARK modern versions and stick to the originals in translation, then work out your own.

In 2006, Charles Perry published an article discussing this early cuisine, and including modern versions only of a number of recipes from this source, in the Saudi-Aramco Magazine, titled "Cooking with the Caliphs" ...and it's on-line:

Best of all, an entire translation was published in December, 2007, which includes excellent introductory matter, a selection of color plates, and an extensive glossary. Among everything else it has to recommend it, it has an entire chapter on baking bread.:
Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyâr al-Warrâq's Tenth-century Baghdadi Cookbook
Series: Islamic History and Civilization, 70
English Translation with Introduction and Glossary by Nawal Nasrallah Brill: Leiden, The Netherlands, December 2007
Number of pages: xii, 876 pp., 32 pp.
ISBN-13: 978-9004158672
(i)The ISBN (International Standard Book Number) has been changed from 10 to 13 digits on 1 January 2007

It is quite expensive, so i saved for it for a few months. For the serious historical Middle Eastern cook, this is absolutely a "must have". Not only for the many hundreds of recipes, but also for other material in al-Warrâq's book, such as on humors, hand cleansing, conversation, and napping. And additionally invaluable are the extensive glossaries by Nasrallah. So i highly recommend saving your sheckels.

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(2.) 13th C. Maghribi and Andalusi

Kitab al tabij fi-l-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus fi `asr al-Muwahhidin, li-mu'allif mayhul
The Book of Dishes from the Magreb and al-Andalus of the Almohad period
title by Huici Miranda, who translated it from Arabic into Spanish

Anwâ` al-Saydala fî Alwân al-At`ima
Phamacopeoia on the Preparation of All Types of Food (my rough translation)
the actual name of this book on a second manuscript found in the library in Rabat, Morocco, according to Nawal Nasrullah, in private communication with me.

Or the Anonymous Andalusian Cookbook, as it is commonly known in the SCA

This book by an anonymous compiler/author contains recipes drawn from a number of works no longer surviving. Various incarnations of, selections from, and analyses of this have been published in French and Spanish.

The translation by Charles Perry from the original Arabic manuscript into English (with additional notes by various SCAdians based on an earlier, often flawed, Spanish translation) is available on-line:

I like being able to search the recipes by computer, so i downloaded the whole book from the above website. But I like having a hard-copy that i can carry around and read anywhere. So i purchased it from Duke Cariadoc as part of his amazingly priced compendium of historical cookbooks - info on his website, above.

For some worked out recipes, written in persona, by the persona formerly known as Joshua ibn-Eleazar ha-Shalib:

Fadalat al-Jiwan fi Tayyibat al-t'am wa-l-alwan
Delicacies of the Table, the Best Foods and Types of Dishes
Abu l-Hasan 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Abi l-Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr ibn al-Andalusi Razin al-Tujibi
from Murcia between 1228 and 1243
which has not been translated into English in full

The author is sometimes referred to in scholarly literature as "al-Razin", occasionally as "al-Tujibi". Parts of it have been translated into Spanish, in which language his name is written Tugibi.

And there are also a number of surviving Andalusi medical manuals that include food info and the occasional recipes. While most are not available in English, i think some have been translated into Spanish.

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(3.) 13th C. 'Abbasid

al-Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes)
by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Karim al-Katib al-Baghdadi

Probably the chef d'oeuvre of Medieval Arabic language cook books is this al-Kitab al-Tabikh (Book of Dishes or Cookery Book), perhaps better known in English as "A Baghdad Cookery Book" and in the SCA as "al-Baghdadi". This book was copied and recopied for at least three centuries, even into other languages, and often with additional recipes added by the transcribers or translators.

a.) It was first translated into English by A.J. Arberry in the 1930s. The book was first transcribed into Arabic from the original by the Iraqi scholar Daoud Chelebi. There were a number of scribal errors in it and Chelebi attempted to correct them. There were also a number of unfamiliar words and phrases and Chelebi tried to rectify them into more familiar terms, in some cases, badly misunderstanding them. In translating Chelebi's transcription into English, Arberry made additional mistakes (hey, he was young, it was the 1930s, and this was the first Medieval Arabic language cookbook translated into English, so it's easy to understand his mistakes). This is the most familiar version.

It was published by Arberry as "A Baghdad cookery book" in: Islamic Culture, 13 (1939), 21-47; and 184-214.

Duke Cariadoc's compendium of Medieval cookbooks has a photo copy of the original journal article.

However, there are two other newer and better versions.

b.) The first is: Medieval Arab Cookery
Maxime Rodinson, A. J. Arberry, and Charles Perry.
Prospect Books: Devon UK, 2001
ISBN 0-907325-91-2

Among its contents is Arberry's translation along with *new footnotes* and *corrections* by Charles Perry, a scholar, food historian, and writer of a food column for the L.A. Times.

Arberry did not use the original manuscript, but a transcription made by Arabic scholar, Daoud Chelebi. As Chelebi made the transcription, he made decisions about what to include and what to leave out. Apparently he left out some necessary information, which Perry did not know until he looked at the original manuscript, which he did after annotating this edition.

For example, Chelebi and Arberry found a phrase "atraf al-tib" and didn't know what it meant. Arberry ended up concluding it was "blattes de Byzance" and made of some fragrant operculum (snail shell trap door) or else some sort of insect. In fact, "atraf al-tib" is called for in some of the other cookbooks, and one even includes a recipe for it. It turns out to be a blend of spices - no insects or snail shells. Since many people have copies of the original Arberry, but not the update, they still debate whether it's the snail operculum or some insect...

This book is well worth owning, even with Arberry's old flawed translation, since it is a collection of many informative essays about Middle Eastern food, recipes, and cuisine and several translated cookbooks, from the 13th to the 17th centuries in translation, including The Book of the Description of Familiar Foods (see below).

c.) However for the historic cook there is a new translation of al-Baghdidi by Charles Perry from the original Arabic manuscript, not from a transcription.

A Baghdad Cookery Book by Muhammad Ibn al-Hasan al-Baghdadi
translated by Charles Perry
Prospect Books: Devon UK, 2006
ISBN 1-903018-42-0

The NEW! IMPROVED! translation by Charles Perry of "al-Kitab al-Tabikh" (The Book of Dishes) by Muhammad ibn al-Hasan ibn Muhammad ibn Karim al-Katib al-Baghdadi. Toss out the old Arberry translation and wallow in this one.

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(4.) Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World (a modern compendium)

Medieval Cuisine of the Islamic World: A Concise History with 174 recipes by Lilia Zaouali
University of California Press, 2007
(first published in Italian 2004).

(The pronunciation of her last name is za-wa-lee -- French often uses "ou" where English uses a "w" -- so if you see an "ou" in between two other vowels in a word, it's likely pronounced like a "w")

This is not a deep scholarly work; it is however, quite useful for the SCAdian cook.
The book begins with a brief but informative Forward by Charles Perry.
The primary text is divided into three sections:
Part One: Cultural Background and Culinary Context
Part Two: The Medieval Tradition
Part Three: Contemporary North African Cuisine

The first sixty pages is divided into two parts, "Crossroads of the World's Cuisines" and "Materials, Techniques, and Terminology". These include, among other things, a brief overview of known Arabic language culinary texts, ingredients, and cooking techniques, and includes some useful photos of extant cookware and serving dishes, although only a rather limited number. Much of this information has been previously available in other publications by other authors, so it is not new, but useful for those without other books on the subject.

Part Two consists of 143 recipes from four sources, three not yet available in English and one only recently available.

The oldeset source is the 10 c. compendium al-Kitab al-Tabikh (The Book of Dishes) by Abu Muhammad al-Muzaffar ibn Nasr ibn Sayyar al-Warraq. As mentioned above, this has been recently published as Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens: Ibn Sayyar Al-warraq's Tenth-century Baghdadi Cookbook (Islamic History and Civilization) by Nawal Nasrallah. Zaouali includes 24 recipes from this vast source, which i assume she translated herself.

The other three are from the 13th century. One is Kitab Fadalat al-khiwan fi tayyibat al-ta'am w'al-alwan by Ibn Razin from al-Andalus, from which there are 53 recipes. Another is the Wusla ila'l-habib fi wasf al-tayyabat wa'l-tib from Syria; Maxime Rodinson listed all its recipes in an essay republished in "Medieval Arab Cookery", Prospect Press, but only a few of the recipes have been available in English. Now we have 29 of them. And the fourth is also from the 13th C., the Egyptian Kanz al-fawa'id fi tanwi' al-mawa'id, which is the source of 37 recipes.

The recipes are arranged into 14 sections by type, among which is "Bread and Broth", which is actually a section on Tharids; a section on "Pasta" with directions for making several different kinds; and a section on "Couscous" with five recipes, including the description of a pot for cooking it, which is rather like the modern couscousiere. In the "Pastries and Jams" section is a recipe for Quince Sikanjubin (from the "Kanz") - quince juice with sugar and vinegar and some optional flavorings.

All the recipes are given in translation only, which we would expect. Unfortunately, however, the author often substitutes her own title for them, without including a transliteration of the original name, which i like to see. Most recipes are introduced by a brief paragraph, which may include history, discussion of techniques or ingredients, or mention of a modern recipe that is related. The recipes are not "worked out" or modernized, and so are just waiting for us to get our "redaction" chops on them, which i find exciting.

But i have some issues with this book. The source books are from several different cultures and centuries. There is little analysis of them, so there's no deep understanding of the changes in the cuisine over time. And there's only a little discussion of the differences between Eastern and Western Arabic cuisine. And Zaouali does not give her reasons for chosing the recipes she includes. Were they just ones she liked? Are they more representative of their respective cookbooks? Is there some relationship among them that Zaouali sees but does not specify? Are they just plain random? More analysis would have made this book much more useful.

The book ends with 31 modern North African recipes, chosen because Zaouali thinks each is similar to a Medieval recipe in the book. Some of the recipes are interesting to me becase they are for dishes i don't recall seeing in any of my other North African cookbooks.

While not the masterwork of scholarship that Annals of the Caliphs' Kitchens is, Zaouali's book also does not cost around $200, but a mere $24.95 (in hardcover). And it is definitely useful for the SCAdian cook, especially since it includes recipes not in any other book.

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(5.) 14th C. 'Abbasid/Mamluk

al-Kitab Wasf al-At'ima al-Mu'tada (The Book of the Description of Familiar Foods)

This book, of which the earliest known version was copied in 1373 in Cairo, contains another version of al-Baghdadi, one that includes most of the recipes from the original, plus many more. It also includes a confectioner's manual, and a chapter from another book titled "Dishes for Invalids, and What Monks and Christians Eat in Lent".

If you like to play with sugar, making candy and sweets, this is an excellent source of information. Additionally the Lenten recipes are quite tasty - i have cooked some when an SCA cooking list had a sort of Lenten cook-along.

This book was also translated and introduced by Charles Perry. And it is published in Medieval Arab Cookery (see reference above).

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(6.) 14th C. Turko-Mongol

Yin-shan Cheng-Yao (Proper and Essential Things for the Emperor's Food and Drink)
by Hu Szu-Hui

The original was written for the Mongol Khan Tu-Temur and printed with wooden blocks in Chinese. Even though it was written in Chinese, there's little to no Chinese food in it. The author Hu Szu-Hui, despite his name, was of Western Sino-Turkic ancestry (many groups of Turkic people lived in or warred with China) and served as imperial dietary physician. He presented the book to the Qan (Khan) in 1330. It is a complete Turko-Mongol medicinal dietary book with recipes and most of the food is very Central Asian core-Turkic - and there are even a few recipes based on those in al-Baghdadi.

A Soup for the Qan: A Translation and Study of Chinese Dietary Medicine of the Mongol Era as Seen in Hu Szu-Hui's "Yin-shan Cheng-Yao"
translated by Paul D. Buell, Eugene N. Anderson, and Charles Perry
Kegan Paul International: London UK, 2000
ISBN 0-7103-0583-4

This scholarly edition has reproductions of every page of the original block printed book, a complete translation into English, notes and descriptive and historical essays. This is OOP and very expensive book, but you can ILL (Inter-Library Loan) it - that's what i did.

There is good news, and that is the authors recently got back the rights to the publication from the publisher with whom they were very unhappy. They actually WANT re-enactor's to cook from this book. So it is likely that a less expensive edition will be available in the not too distant future, although this will probably take a few years to reach stores.

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(7.) 15th C. Ottoman

Mehmed ibn Mahmoud al-Shirvani's 15th C. Ottoman recipes contained in his translation of al-Baghdadi
Scholars don't quite agree on how many Ottoman recipes there are - Yerasimos says 82, but in an earlier paper (1985) scholar Gunay Kut says 77 - inserted into a translation into Turkish of al-Baghdadi's cookbook, by the translator.

In French:
A la table du Grand Turc (literally At the table of the Sultan") by Stephane Yerasimos
L'Orient gourmand series, Sindbad/Editions Actes Sud: Arles, France, 2001
ISBN 2-7427-3443-0

In Turkish:
Sultan sofralari : 15. ve 16. y¸zyilda osmanli saray mutfagi
by Stefanos Yerasimos
YKY: Istanbul, Turkey, 2002
ISBN 975-08-0386-8

Yerasimos was looking from some *real* Ottoman recipes, from before the 18th century when all the tomatoes and bell peppers, and other New World foods were added to Ottoman cuisine. He was looking through a Turkish language copy of al-Baghdadi in a modern Turkish library (the book was copied and re-copied for centuries), translated into Turkish in the late 15th century by Mehmed ibn Mahmoud al-Shirvani, from the city of Shirvan, now in Azerbaijan, but at times part of the Persian Empire and part of the Ottoman Empire. Yerasimos discovered that al-Chirvani had added 82 more recipes. The modern author then verified that these recipes were not merely copied from some other cookbooks but were actually eaten by the royal family or served at other important feasts in Istanbul, when he found other texts that listed everything the Sultan had eaten over a period of two years as well as dishes served to important visitors and menus of the various circumcision festivals for the sons of the Sultan.

This publication has only 23 of those 15th century Ottoman recipes. It also has one late 18th C. recipe, one mid-19th C. recipe, and one reconstructed recipe based on 16th century descriptions and modern recipes.

NOTE: The Turkish edition, while in modern Turkish, has the original recipes in *the original 15th c. Osmanli Turkish*

I translated it into English a few months ago.

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(8.) late 15th-early 16th C. Persian, Moghul, and Indian

The Ni'matnama Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu

A late 15th and early 16th C. Moghul recipe and medicinal book, written in Urdu. There is only one known copy of this book in existence, in the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library (BL. Persian 149). It's illustrated with fifty miniatures, the first few painted in a distinctive Shiraz (Southern Iranian) style by imported Persian artists, but increasingly the later illustrations show the indigenous styles of book painting from Central and Western India.

The book was compiled between 1495 and 1505. It contains recipes for food, betel, medicinals, aphrodisiacs, perfumes, and more, written for Ghiyath Shahi, Sultan of Mandu (now Madhya Pradesh), from 1469-1500, and continued by his successor, his son Nasir Shah. It reflects Moghul culture that was highly influenced by Persia.

It is available in English as:
The Ni'matnama Manuscript of the Sultans of Mandu: The Sultan's Book of Delights
translated by Norah M. Titley
RoutledgeCurzon: Abingdon, Oxon, UK, 2005
ISBN 0-415-35059-X

This scholarly publication includes a complete translation with notes and a complete reproduction of the original book in photographic plates. Because of the color plates, it costs over $100 US, so i recommend ILL'ing it, too.

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(9.) Late 16th C. Persian, Moghul, and Indian

Ain-i Akbari, part of the Akbarnamah
by Shaikh Abu al-Fazl ibn Mubarak
circa 1590

Ain-i Akbari, the third volume of the Akbarnamah, was written by Shaikh Abu al-Fazl ibn Mubarak, who was Akbar's minister and friend. It was written in Persian. This volume in particular, is an account of Mughal India, especially Akbar's court, in the late 16th Century. It contains information regarding Akbar's reign. Apparently it isn't always completely accurate, but it helps in understanding its time. It catalogues facts for which, in modern times, we would turn to administration reports, statistical compilations, or gazetteers. It is essentially the Administration Report and Statistical Return of his government in about 1590 CE.

There are several sections on foodstuffs, including one with recipes.

The translation into English by H. Blochmann 1873, and completed by Colonel H. S. Jarrett in 1907, has been made available on-line by The Packard Humanities Institute. Here's the index for Volume 1 (of 3) of the Ain-i Akbari, which has the section with recipes, as well as other sections that have food info...

His Grace, Duke Cariadoc, has worked out four of the recipes: for Bread; for Sag, a spinach dish; Qutab or Sanbusa, like modern meat Samosa; and Khichri, sometimes called kedgeree, a dish of rice and mung dal. They can be found on

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(10.) 17th C. Persian, Moghul, and Indian

Nuskha-e-Shahjahani : Pulaos from the Royal Kitchen of Shah Jahan
translated by Salma Husain
Rupa & Co.: New Delhi, 2004
ISBN 81-7167-989-7

Shah Jahan ruled from 1628-1658 , so if it is from his reign, it is slightly out of period for the SCA. Unfortunately, the author gives only a scantily historical introdunction, one that raises more questions than it answers, in which she never mentions the provenance or even date of the actual manuscript, although she does state that it is written in Persian. Her book includes merely a selection from the cookbook, only 70 rice-based savory and sweet recipes. It only has pulaos, quboolis, and kichdis - which are all what we modern folks would consider "main dishes". No purely vegetable or fruit recipes and only a couple rice based "desserts" (one which interestingly show up in late 15th C. and 16th C. Ottoman feasts)

I just wish the book had two things:
1. more information about the manuscript;
2. more of the original manuscript's recipes!

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Worked Out Recipes in Modern Form

For "worked out" recipes, here are a few links to some reliable versions.

Duke Cariadoc

Cariadoc has worked out many recipes from al-Baghdadi and the Andalusian cookbook. They can be found at:
Note that many recipes are in the Miscellany

and on Gregory Blunt's site:

Joshua ibn-Eleazar ha-Shalib, now known as John Elys

Some Recipes of al-Andalus
An article that first appeared in Tournaments Illuminated number 96 (Fall 1990) and was slightly updated by 1996.

Urtatim al-Qurtubiyya

I've worked out a few recipes, too, which are linked in:
Dining Niche
including several from the Anonymous Andalusian cookbook, a quasi-Persian feast using mostly dishes with Persian names from cookbooks in Medieval Arab Cookery (mentioned above), and a comparison of the seasonings used in al-Baghdadi and the Andalusian cookbook.

Back to al-Iwan, the Dining Niche in Dar Anahita
for more menus and recipe.

Questions? Comments?