A Taste of the East
A Taste of the East
The East - a culinary temptation
The East, the legendary Orient, has always captured the European imagination and to this day, the fairytale enchantment of dazzling trading centres such as Damascus, Istanbul, Isfahan and Marrakech has lost nothing of its fascination. Elaborately decorated jewellery, cloth interlaced with gold, the muezzin's calls to prayer, the starlit skies of the desert, the vibrant rhythm of the bazaars and the magnificent Eastern architecture send every visitor into raptures.
This world of the Arabian Nights casts a spell which is mysterious, unfamiliar and enticing, all at the same time. An exuberant wealth of colours, aromas and sounds greets every new visitor. It is worth visiting an Eastern bazaar once in a lifetime not only to experience the glorious colours of the spice stalls but also to witness the mountains of fruit and vegetables on display. However, it's not just the spices which contribute to the worldwide fame of Eastern cuisine - but above all it's the hospitality, peculiar to the Arab people, that goes with it.
The desert - one of the most hostile environments on earth - is the reason why hospitality in Arab countries has a very particular meaning. It originates from the basic need to survive. Even in the Book of the Prophets clear instructions are given as to how a guest should be entertained. Despite the intrusion of the modern world and thus the subsequent westernisation of societies, especially in the cities, hospitality in Eastern culture still ranks highly. If an individual is not prepared to invite a friend or a stranger to share a meal with them, then they are deemed to be avaricious and unworthy. A guest should never be seen as a burden, but always as an honour.
If guests are invited to someone's home or festivals are celebrated, the most resplendent side of Eastern cuisine is on display: each of these banquets begins with meze dishes, which can sometimes occupy a whole table, and showcase the variety of Eastern cuisine in the most delicious way. Lentil or pea patties, falafels, variations on the tomato theme, stuffed patties, houmous, baba ghanoush and many other pastes and soups whet the appetite too. The book is divided into eight chapters, including this preface which gives you a taste of what is to come. For the most part, the sheer variety of small, exquisite delicacies is enough to satisfy even the hungriest of appetites. These dishes are always accompanied by bread, which is more than just a side dish in Arab countries. There is almost a religious meaning associated with bread and everyone waits their turn politely, as it brings misfortune if several hands are reaching for the bread at the same time. In addition, cutting bread invokes calamity, which is the reason why in Arab countries it is always broken and never cut. Also, baking flatbread has been a tradition in the East for a millennium. Even today, in the countryside, it is homemade and baked in simple ovens. Flatbread tastes best when it's fresh - therefore it comes as no surprise that several batches are baked each day.
Once the meze course is finished, the guest has a difficult decision to make, because Eastern cuisine has a simply overwhelming range to offer with its poultry, meat and fish dishes, as well as vegetarian main courses. In any case, there is the characteristic combination of delicately harmonised spices with fruits - whether they are fresh or dried. Chicken with pomegranates doesn't just look stunning. By combining the pomegranates with sweet and sour flavours, it's also an out-and-out taste explosion, which overwhelms the palate. However, the many other poultry recipes flavour the meat to produce incredibly juicy, subtle and tasty dishes.
As far as the meat dishes are concerned, lamb dominates by a long way. By virtue of its intrinsic aromatic flavour it calls out - whether cooked whole or as kebabs or