2 October 2013
There is no doubt Britain has gone through a food revolution in the last decades. Long gone are the days when you could only buy olive oil in a chemist’s shop, marked ‘for external use only’. Today not only can you find all kinds of olive oil on any supermarket shelf but also a variety of vegetables and fruit once described as exotic by the British. Television and food journalism have also brought more recipes than one can even read, let alone reproduce.
The idea of Culinary Connections epitomises the more pleasant aspects of the relationship between Britain and the Middle East, highlighted in many of the articles here. Another member of the editorial board came up with the idea listening to Julian Lush describe his beekeeping forays into the region, the subject of his article on beekeeping in Oman, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Sami Zubaida describes the range of foods from the region which are now so much more available in London’s shops and restaurants, the result of the huge growth in residents from the Middle East. Roger Hardy’s interview with Claudia Roden shows the influence of one individual on the palate and diet certainly of Londoners with easy access to the crucial ingredients. Alec Gordon and Sarah Searight describe how coffee reached Britain (and its status today), via Constantinople. By the end of the sixteenth century, many European merchants were determined to have access to the precious drink back home. And it is they who are quoted by Mary Isin in her fascinating description of the significance of water, much of it distributed via the magnificent fountains that are still a feature of modern Istanbul.
The world shrank in the 20th century with so many people able to go to foreign lands and their eating habits were brought to our homes via television screens. The 21st century is bringing us even more in contact with different foods and cooking styles, with London nurturing more and more ethnic restaurants and food stalls. In this issue, Nadje al-Ali once again introduces the reader to an alternative to cooking one’s own regional meal, and Narguess Farzad provides us with the poetic dimension so vital to distinctive Persian cuisine. Other articles include Nevsal Hughes’ discussion with Warwick Ball of his latest book, Sultans of Rome, which describes the spread of Turks across Asia and into Europe; and Sarah Stewart introduces us to some of the highlights of the current Zoroastrian exhibition.