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Cambridge University Library

Exhibition: Tastes of Heaven - Tales of the Arab Kitchen

Tastes of Heaven exhibition brochure
Author: 
Melonie Schmierer-Lee
Fri 27 Oct 2023

Food represents culture without boundaries with flavors, changing fashions, and personal preference all gaining expression in our plates. Celebrating the food culture of the Middle East, a new temporary exhibition 'Tastes of Heaven: Tales of the Arab Kitchen' – curated by Limor Yungman and Adi Namia-Cohen at the Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem – brings together cookbooks, artworks, travelers' literature, cooking, eating and drinking utensils, archaeological discoveries, historical chronicles and documents from the Cairo Genizah to shed light on a common (sometimes separate) food culture shared by the inhabitants of Muslim countries, from the Middle Ages until the early Modern Era.

In the year 632, with the beginning of the Muslim conquests in the Middle East and beyond, a unique convergence occurred between the desert culture of the conquering Arab tribes with their limited cuisine, and the permanent city and village residents who enjoyed a variety of cuisines, raw materials and cooking techniques. With the founding of the caliphate, this vast geographical region became a single governmental domain that enabled the passage of commodities, agricultural crops, technologies, and food products. Under the caliphate regime, the cultures that coexisted with each other coalesced into a complex Arab culture in which numerous minorities lived alongside the ruling Muslim majority: Jews, Oriental Christians, Copts, Samaritans, Berbers, Zoroastrians, and others. Arabic, that gradually gained dominance, was not merely a language of speech and writing, but also a culinary language common to all the region's inhabitants – used in their homes, markets, and at the magnificent banquets held in the rulers' courts – from India and Persia in the east to Turkey, North Africa, and Muslim Spain in the west. Some of the foods featured in the exhibition are still found on tables today, while others reveal an unknown piece of the region's culinary history. 

Genizah manuscripts featured in the Tastes of Heaven exhibition  Genizah Fragments featured in the Tastes of Heaven exhibition

Genizah fragments featured in the Tastes of Heaven exhibition  Genizah Fragments featured in the Tastes of Heaven exhibition

Images of Cairo Genizah fragments featured in the Tastes of Heaven exhibition: T-S NS J437 (shopping list for Shavuot), T-S NS J41 (list for distribution of bread to the poor), and T-S 13J4.8 (kosher certificate for imported cheese from Mesina).

'Tastes of Heaven: Tales of the Arab Kitchen' opened on 13th July 2023 and it will close on 4th May 2024.

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