Jews, Food and Spain
Historic, adaptable, transmissible, territorial, diasporic and nostalgic would best define what is the cuisine of the Jews. As such, there is not one Jewish cuisine but many types of Jewish cuisine, as many as communities and diasporas. This book, which is the result of a doctoral thesis on medieval history defended at the end of 2019, explores in particular the Jewish cuisine that originated and developed in Spain. This cuisine has two unique qualities. Its recipes were created in the 13th century in a territory under Muslim rule, which are revealed to us for the first time. Therefore, it is written in Arabic in the context of a multicultural society but crossed by strong intercommunity tensions. The second originality of the cuisine of the Jews of Spain lies in the complex – and sometimes unexpected – ways by which it has gradually become heritageized. Persecuted by the Inquisition, Jewish culinary practices in a Christian Spain only persist through words and ingredients. But neither persecution nor expulsion completely let them disappear: the Sephardic diaspora gave them a second life in Morocco, the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East and as far as Latin America. These are the threads that this book patiently intends to unroll.
A linguistic and technical investigation is made to track down, in dictionaries as in cookbooks, terms, products and processes that demonstrate the resilience of the cuisine of The Jews of Spain. Some examples are preferred, such as eggplant or coriander, dried beef (cecina), fried desserts (hojuelas, fijuelas) and other sweet pastries (mazapan). First, the book seeks to restore the Jews’ place in the cuisine of Al-Andalus under Almohad domination (12th-13th centuries). Between difficult cohabitation and forced conversions, religion appears as an indispensable tool for the culinary uniformity of the territory. Focusing on the Jewish mark present in the first cookbook of that time, the Kitāb al-ṭabīẖ, thus seems paradoxical. However, the approach has proven to be very fruitful. The tracks I followed revealed the first traces of a Jewish cuisine, a cuisine explicitly designated as Jewish but also a hidden Jewish cuisine whose clues are scattered in this cookbook. So, what does “Jewish cuisine” mean? Analyses on bread, wine, meat and eggplant consumed in the Kitāb al-ṭabīẖ come to offer the first answers.
The culinary history of the Jews is to be considered on the long term. The official expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 marked a radical turning point in the food and culinary practices of the Mosaic people. Therefore, the second part of the book questions the heritage of the multicultural cuisine of Al-Andalus (15th-21st centuries), and focuses on the evolution of Jewish food and the perception that others have of it. Literary works and Inquisition trials are surprisingly rich in information about the culinary rites and practices present in the diet of the Jews. Information can only be grasped by reading between the lines because discretion is always required: nothing is explicitly said, but acts speak. For, if the Jewish holidays are one of the main vectors in the culinary transmission, their celebration and the elaboration of the singular cuisine that is practiced, de facto condemn their observants. The absence of pork, the high consumption of eggplant and coriander, are the main markers of a Jewish diet that are more revealed in meals than in recipes. These are premises of the diasporic Jewish cuisine.
Between rebirth and desire to recognize a past culinary heritage, the last part of the book offers well-known and famous recipes that prove how the new can maintain the old when, through a culinary reconfiguration, Andalusian Judaism lives. Thus, to the recipes of dried beef, oriza, mufleta and other dishes common among the Sephardic people of Spain, were added those of the diaspora. As an inherent element of the Jewish people and, thus, of their culture, the cuisine of the Sephardic diaspora linked to the dishes present in the Kitāb al-ṭabīẖ lives around the world. Illustrated and explained Jewish recipes from the Kitāb al- ṭabīẖ such as the Stuffed buried Jewish dish and the Jewish chicken—as well as other medieval Iberian recipes, the result of culinary reconstructions and present in the Sephardic culinary heritage of the Mediterranean basin— illustrate and conclude this book. Certainly, the different fields explored in this book have been the subject of regular studies and criticism, but they have never been considered together—and even less through the prism of multiculturalism. One of its main contributions is the emphasis offered on
cultural and religious entanglements that manifest themselves through food, in a territory whose borders do not impose limits on the transmission of culinary knowledge. When faith becomes law, food becomes a tool in the service of religion. A Christian culinary ideology was born at the end of the 14th century. It was based on a deliberate erasure of the Andalusians’ food and culinary practices and uses. It has often been written that Jews inhabited a language, were the people of the Book, identified themselves with specific culinary practices, especially in Shabbat and for religious holidays. This book, by analyzing the relationship between linguistic patterns, scriptural modes and culinary grammar, finally gives to the nostalgia of Sefarad a scientific legitimacy. »