Ziryab’s contribution to Mediterranean and Al-Andalus cuisine

The Maghreb region, and Morocco in particular, is world-renowned for its gastronomy. In fact, its traditional cuisine is distinguished by its great refinement, harmoniously mixing flavors that one would never have thought to combine, especially the sweet-salty. This know-how was developed through a common heritage of the Mediterranean, especially after the arrival of Ziryab (Abu Hassan Ali ben Nafi, 789-857) in Al-Andalus during the ninth century. Exiled from Baghdad, Iraq, the Kurdish and Persian musician is known as a historical figure in Arab-Andalusian music, of which he is considered the founding father. In addition to introducing the Arabic lute to Al-Andalus, adding a fifth string to it, this virtuoso is a man of letters, an astronomer, and a geographer. With several strings in his bow, he also blames himself for having greatly influenced the art of Andalusian culinary living.

Al-Andalus’s cuisine and gastronomy also enjoyed a tour between the 9th and 12th centuries, mainly thanks to Ziryab, who introduced new dishes inspired by Eastern traditions in combination with local wear. , which quickly made an oil slick between Cordoba and Granada and then beyond. In 822, the young musician left Baghdad for Cordoba. Invited by the emir, he introduced certain Persian customs and a refined know-how of gastronomy, especially as he discovered in Al-Andalus a land rich in diverse orchards.

Banquets that set the stage for Andalusian culinary sophistication

Despite the richness of the vegetable garden, the elegance did not always go hand in hand with the local culinary preparations. So far, the food consumed on the peninsula has Roman, Visigothic, Arab and Amazigh influences, but harmony in the blending of flavors and ingredients is lacking. Thanks to his ancestral gastronomic background in Baghdad, in addition to his career in music and poetry, Ziryab quickly became the court’s culinary advisor. Innovate prepared novelties that mix for the first time certain varieties of vegetables, established by the rules of the table, such as the service of drinks in crystal glasses or instead of metal cups, as well as the refinement of the service and linen tablecloths.

In the order of the food to be served by meal, Ziryab orders a successive presentation of the food and not a simultaneous one, for a gradual tasting. He proposes to start with soups or cereals, to continue with fish or meat, and then to end with desserts. This know-how increasingly influenced Andalusian families, who brought these uses with them to find refuge in North Africa, after the fall of Granada and the end of the Reconquest (722 – 1492).

Earlier, the progress of agricultural techniques in the region made the peninsula a prosperous land. “Rice, sugar cane, aubergine, artichoke or spinach are grown there.” “Asia Minor quinces, Persian melons, Syrian watermelons, and little-known fruit trees such as pomegranate, orange, or lemon have brought a variety of food to the point where they are less open to consumption. fresh fruit, ”wrote Ana Vega, a culinary specialist in Al-Andalus.

Ziryab also made sure to document his contribution to Andalusian gastronomy, leaving manuscripts that include unpublished, savory and sweet culinary preparations in the form of dishes or cakes, influenced by the use of honey and sugar in the Middle East. , but also marked by the important use of vegetables in Mediterranean cuisine. “Muslims have even improved the cultivation of vegetables that already existed on the peninsula, such as the olive grove,” adds Ana Vega, who mentions the use of olive oil, the consumption of apricots, carrots, beans, aubergines and citrus fruits.

For centuries, many manuscripts of scholars who have written about the region’s gastronomy have fallen into oblivion, been lost or found without the names of their authors. The use of wheat, barley, rye and other cereals has long been documented and considered a major component of bread, pasta, noodles and couscous semolina, which have been widely consumed. for centuries. Also, the introduction of rice to Al-Andalus has led to the development of thick soup preparations, where beans, chickpeas or peas are found in combinations reminiscent of chorba or harira.

Over the centuries, meat consumption has made its way into the wealthiest households. Historical writings indicate that the meat was often “roasted, cooked in sauce, processed into sausages and dumplings” or stewed, in alte regiuni. For their part, the most modest families often ate fish, fried or preserved in salt or marinade.

Ziryab died in 857, but the great banquets of which he was the mastermind laid the groundwork for the well-known demonstrations of the culinary arts inherited from this skill. Under the Grand Caliphate of Córdoba (929 – 1031), these customs were perpetuated, especially by Abd Al-Rahman III (929 – 961) who called on a large team of cooks in his court, while demanding high quality food. Among the publications that have traced the basics of the most popular recipes since that time is “Fiḍālat al-Khiwān fī Ṭayyibāt al-Ṭaʿām wa-l-Alwān” (Best of Al-Andalus et al. -Maghrib).

This book was written in Tunis, around 1260, by the 13th century Andalusian researcher Ibn Razīn al-Tujībī (1227-1293). But his manuscript was not discovered and reconstructed until centuries later. In 2019, the Franco-Syrian historian Farouk Mardam-Bey dedicated his book “The cuisine of Ziryâb” to the great gastronomic contribution of the musician in the Andalusian region, as well as to all the art of living, of the hairstyle and clothing, thanks to which Ziryab beautified Al-Andalus and the whole Mediterranean.

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