Category Archives: Global Exchange

A 17th-Century Italian’s Encounter with Uzbek Plov

By Scott Levi

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A mountain of pumpkins at the Alayskii Market in Tashkent

The Venetian doctor Niccolao Manucci lived in India for some fifty-five years, nearly his entire adult life. Working in a variety of capacities on behalf of his Mughal hosts, in the middle of the seventeenth century he found himself at the court of emperor Aurangzeb, who in 1658 ascended the throne in place of his father, Shah Jahan.

Twelve years earlier, Shah Jahan had placed Aurangzeb at the head of an army charged with marching across the Hindu Kush and retaking the Mughals’ ancestral homeland in Central Asia. The Mughal occupation of Balkh, near the banks of the Amu Darya, ended in failure and a disastrous retreat. Now, with Aurangzeb on the throne, the Uzbek ruler of Balkh, Subhan Quli Khan, dispatched an embassy to the new emperor in the hope that the two powers could once again enjoy peaceful relations.

India’s hot climate disagreed with the Uzbek nobles, and when one of the ambassadors fell sick Manucci himself was charged with caring for him and seeing to his recovery. This provided Manucci with the opportunity to become personally acquainted with the Central Asian visitors, and, much to his dismay, even share meals with them. His experience is instructive in how Mughal customs had changed over the century and a half since the dynastic founder, Babur (1483–1530), had made his way to India in the wake of the Uzbek invasion of the Timurid capital of Samarqand.*

It was disgusting to see how these Uzbak nobles ate, smearing their hands, lips, and faces with grease while eating, they having neither forks nor spoons…Mahomedans are accustomed after eating to wash their hands with pea-flour to remove grease, and most carefully clean their moustaches. But the Uzbak nobles do not stand on such ceremony. When they have done eating, they lick their fingers, so as not to lose a grain of rice; they rub one hand against the other to warm the fat, and then pass both hands over face, moustaches, and beard. He is most lovely who is the most greasy… The conversation hardly gets beyond talk of fat, with complaints that in the Mogul territory they cannot get anything fat to eat, and that the pulāos are deficient in butter.

Plov is an exceptionally hearty Central Asian variant of what is widely known in Turkish, Persian and Indian cuisine as a pilaf or pulao. In essence, each is a dish of seasoned rice, often cooked in a stock, and generally including a combination of spices, vegetables and proteins designed to make the dish a rich and tasty centerpiece to a meal. Even within their respective regions, each is differentiated in terms of cooking techniques and they exhibit endless local variations in the customary combination of vegetables, nuts, fruits and meats (if any). One may find garlic, onions and carrots alongside raisins and chickpeas, while other variations may favor lentils, peas, almonds, pistachios, barberries and even pomegranate seeds. Instead of lamb, one may also find chicken, beef and even variants calling for fish or horsemeat.

Fat-tailed sheep in Khoqand, Ferghana Valley
Fat-tailed sheep in Khoqand, Ferghana Valley

Dumba is the single ingredient that most distinguishes Central Asian plov. Dumba is the fat tail of the region’s highly valued fat-tailed sheep. Rendering it to provide the grease for cooking adds calories and equips Uzbek plov with a distinctive and deeply satisfying flavor. Historically, Central Asian nomads lived much of their lives out of doors and found animal fat to be an effective salve for protecting one’s skin from the damaging effects of the sun and wind. In traditional Uzbek cooking, the rice in a bowl of plov should appear to glisten. If it fails to do so, adjust the recipe by adding additional lamb fat (or vegetable oil) in the early stages of cooking.

Fresh dumba at the Chorsu Market in Tashkent
Fresh dumba at the Chorsu Market in Tashkent

Manucci was clearly put off by the table manners and comportment of the Uzbek envoys. But his account also illustrates the importance that culture and environment play in how culinary traditions develop and change. The more “refined” Mughlai pulao suited Indian tastes, relying on ghee instead of animal fat and emphasizing the use of spices. But to the Uzbeks this was considerably less satisfying than plov: the quintessential Uzbek dish that incorporated ingredients and cooking techniques perfectly suited to their steppe heritage, and is still loved throughout Central Asia today.

*Niccolao Manucci, Storia do Mogor, or Mogul India, 1653–1708, 4 vols, tr. By W. Irvine, London: John Murray, 1907–8, II, pp. 40–41.

Lamb Plov

½ c. sunflower or corn oil

1½ lb lamb meat, trimmed and cut into ½-inch cubes (reserve fat)

6 carrots cut into matchstick-sized strips

2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced

1 t. paprika

¼ t. ground turmeric

2 t. cumin seeds, toasted and crushed

Salt

Pepper

½ c. water

3 c. rice, rinsed till clear (traditionally made with short grain rice, though basmati works well)

1 whole head of garlic, roasted with outer stem removed

6 c. boiling water

Place a large cast-iron Dutch oven or similar vessel over medium-high heat. Render lamb fat until the liquid coats the pot and begins to smoke. While vegetable oil is healthier, you can achieve a more authentic-tasting result by increasing the amount of fat rendered at this stage. Remove the (now crispy) fat solids and set aside. (Note: in Central Asia, this lamb crackling is called the jizza. It is salted and enjoyed as a delicacy.)

Add oil and return to temperature.

Add cubed meat and brown on all sides, stirring frequently, for 8-10 minutes. When browned, remove meat with slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the sliced onions and cook till browned, about 10 minutes. Return meat to the pot.

Add carrot slices on top of meat and onions. Add paprika, turmeric, cumin, salt and pepper. If so desired, add garlic cloves, chickpeas, barberries, raisins, or other items.

Add ½ c. water and stir well. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 2 minutes, adding more water if necessary. Flatten the top of the meat mixture with a spatula.

Pour the rice over the meat mixture and flatten the top of the rice. Slowly add the boiling water, taking care not to let the rice mix with the meat mixture.

Let boil uncovered for 15 minutes. When rice begins to thicken, poke several holes in the plov with the handle of a wood spoon to permit steam from the bottom to rise evenly.

Reduce heat to very low and cover tightly. Let cook for approximately 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.

Dish rice onto large platter and spoon the meat and vegetables on top. Garnish with roasted garlic.

Serves 6

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Scott Levi is Associate Professor of Central Asian history at Ohio State University.  He is author of The Indian Diaspora in Central Asia and its Trade, 1550–1900 (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2002) and Caravans: Indian Merchants on the Silk Road (Gurgaon: Penguin, 2015).  He is currently a residential fellow at the Institut d’Études Avancées de Nantes, France, where he aims to complete two new research monographs: The Early Modern Silk Road: Integration and Crisis in Eighteenth-Century Central Asia, and Central Asia in the Global Age: The Rise and Fall of Khoqand, 1709–1876.

Introduction – Joyful News of Medicine from Iberian Worlds

R.A. Kashanipour

Nicolás Monardes, Dos libros, El uno que trata de las cosas que traen de las Indias Occidentales, que sirven al uso de Medicina y como se ha de usar dela raiz del Mechoacan, purge excelentissma. (Sevilla, 1569).
Nicolás Monardes, Dos libros, El uno que trata de las cosas que traen de las Indias Occidentales, que sirven al uso de Medicina y como se ha de usar dela raiz del Mechoacan, purge excelentissma. (Sevilla, 1569).

In 1565, the Spanish physician and herbologist, Nicolás Monardes wrote of the great secrets of nature revealed by Spanish encounters of the New World. In the first book of his Dos libros of medicine, Doctor Monardes remarked of the discovery of new and diverse kingdoms in the Occident that abundantly produced gold, silver, pearls, emeralds, and turquoise that were “a greatly admired by the millions all over the world.” The physician, who never ventured across the Atlantic, marveled at the bounty of the Indies as he wrote from the capital and imperial port of Sevilla. He noted that every year hundreds of ships arrived laden with animals and agricultural products—from across the region came “parrots, monkeys, griffons, lions, falcons, owls, tigers, wool, cotton and sugar.” [1] For the doctor, however, the wealth and abundance of the Indies lay not in minerals, animals, and cash crops, but rather in the botany and knowledge of medicine that grew in the Iberian worlds.

Our Indies have given unto us many trees, plants, herbs, roots, juices, gums, fruits, seeds, liquors, and stones that have great medicinal virtues, that have been found to have great effect and precious value, all of which is said to be excellent and more necessary for corporal health than those things known through the world… And as our Spaniards have discovered new regions, new kingdoms, and new provinces, so too have they brought unto us new medicines and new remedies that cure many infirmities, which, without them, would be incurable and without any remedy.

In the Dos libros, Monardes celebrated the remedial uses of saps and resins, bitumen and bezoars, and fruit and stones that came from the provinces of New Spain and Peru, such as the incense Copal from Mexico, the gum of the Caranna from Cartegena, and the Sulphur vivo (quick sulfur) of Peru. He advocated for the use of the Piedra de sangre (blood stone) as a remedy for the bloody flux the Pimienta de Indes (Indian Pepper) as a purgative. In the first published accounts to detail Çarçaparrilla (sarsaparilla), Monardes characterized the plant as critical medicine well known to both Natives and Spaniards from Nicaragua to Peru. Knowledge of the plant could provide remedies to grave pains and afflictions.

El tobaco. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., USA.
El tobaco. Nicolás Monardes, Joyfull Nevves of the newe founde world (London, 1577). Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., USA.

Although Monardes championed Spanish discoveries of subject populations and mineral wealth in the New World, he noted that medical knowledge was a product of experimentation and consultation with local sources of authority, including Natives and Africans. For instance, the knowledge of the healing roots of a plant known as Mechoacan, which were used to treat sores and pox among other afflictions, came from indigenous caciques and healers that encountered the first conquistadores in Central Mexico. Similarly, Spanish friars learned of purgative qualities of the milk of Pinipinichi plant from Nahuatl-speaking natives of the region. Africans experimented with sarsaparilla and Natives across the New World knew of the curative properties of tobacco.  Monardes, a resident of Sevilla all of his life, drew upon the diverse sources of knowledge that flowed through Iberian intellectual and material world.  Based on his work, it is clear that he drew upon the experience and perspectives of Spanish merchants and settlers as much as he took inspiration from Native informants and African healers.

Joyfull Nevvs of the new founde world (London, 1577). John Frampton’s 1577 translation of the compilation of the works of Nicolás Monardes. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., USA.

Within a decade of the publication of  Nicolás Monardes’s Dos libros, the work was translated and published across Europe, with editions in Latin, French, Italian, German, and English. John Frampton’s English publication in 1570 bore the laudatory title Joyfull Newes of the New Found World, which emphasized the optimism and triumphant themes in the original work.

Although some have [medical] knowledge, it is not common to all people, for which cause I did attempt to heal and to write, using all things from our Indies, utilizing to the art and practice of medicine and remedies for the pains and diseases that we do suffer and endure, where of no small profit does follow to those of our time and also unto them that shall come after us…”[2]

El armadillo. Image courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.
El armadillo. Nicolás Monardes, Primera y segunda y tercera partes de la historia medicinal (Sevilla, 1574). Image courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library, Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

In subsequent works, the doctor went on to provide some of the earliest descriptions of the useful qualities of materia medica from the Iberian World, including tabaco (tobacco), dragon (dragon fruit), and armadillos.  He championed the materia medica of the Iberian world of the sixteenth century.  His work, however, was but one in an expansive intellectual world.

This series of posts on medicine in Latin America and the Iberian World will look at those connections as a means to examine material, intellectual, and power relations. Monardes work demonstrated that the so-called Joyful New of medicine in the Iberian world was not simply a product of colonial discovery, but a result of complex interactions between Europeans, Natives and Africans across Iberian worlds. As the search for remedies took place across the Atlantic , medical knowledge systems created connections within and across imperial boundaries. The history of early modern Iberian and Latin American medicine shows that these connections were the products of local interactions that connected diffuse, diverse, and often disparate knowledge systems that took place on a global scale.  In these posts we will explore remedies from across Iberian worlds, from Mexico to Peru to Brazil and the Caribbean.  The recipes and posts that come in this series, we hope, will further shed light on the fascinating growing scholarship on the history of medicine in the early modern Iberian world, much as Monardes did himself more than four centuries ago.   Joyful News!

[1] Nicolás Monardes, Dos libros, El uno que trata de las cosas que traen de las Indias Occidentales, que sirven al uso de Medicina y como se ha de usar dela raiz del Mechoacan, purge excelentissma. (Sevilla, 1569), 1v, 2r.

[2] Monardes, Dos libros, 2v-3r.

Describing Seething Meat in the New World

By Cynthia D. Bertelsen

Building on my last post on picturing New World foods in Thomas Hariot’s A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia, I now turn to the textual descriptions of those foods.

After listing a number of food items and comparing them to similar English ingredients, Hariot commented briefly on various aspects of Virginia Algonquian life. As any modern travel writer might do, he covered primarily positive aspects of what he saw and explained several agricultural practices of the Algonquians.

John White, White Indian man and woman eating; on rush mat, eating maize from a large round flat dish. Image Credit: British Museum.
John White, White Indian man and woman eating; on rush mat, eating maize from a large round flat dish. Image Credit: British Museum.

The following passage concerning maize or Indian corn–“corn” was an English word for grains in general–describes the grain and ends with the particulars of making a pap or mush (p. 13, online edition and this transcription):

PAGATOWR, a kinde of graine so called by the inhabitants; the same in the West Indies is called MAYZE: English men call it Guinney wheate or Turkie wheate, according to the names of the countreys from whence the like hath beene brought. The graine is about the bignesse of our ordinary English peaze and not much different in forme and shape: but of diuers colours: some white, some red, some yellow, and some blew. All of them yeelde a very white and sweete flowre: beeing vsed according to his kinde it maketh a very good bread.

Wee made of the same in the countrey some mault, whereof was brued as good ale as was to bee desired. So likewise by the help of hops therof may bee made as good Beere. It is a graine of marueilous great increase; of a thousand, fifteene hundred and some two thousand fold.

There are three sortes, of which two are ripe in an eleuen and twelue weekes at the most: sometimes in ten, after the time they are set, and are then of height in stalke about sixe or seuen foote. The other sort is ripe in fourteene, and is about ten foote high, of the stalkes some beare foure heads, some three, some one, and two: euery head containing fiue, sixe, or seuen hundred graines within a fewe more or lesse.

Of these graines besides bread, the inhabitants make victual eyther by parching them; or seething them whole vntill they be broken; or boyling the floure with water into a pappe.

Not only did Hariot describe the flora and fauna of this new world, he took pains to learn how the Virginia Algonquians prepared some of their food. The next passage forms the headnote to De Bry’s elaboration of John White’s original watercolor, “The Seething of Their Meate in Potts of Earth” (p. 54, online edition and this transcription).

Their woemen know how to make earthen vessells with special Cunninge and that so large and fine, that our potters with lhoye wheles can make noe better: ant then Remoue them from place to place as easelye as we candoe our brassen kettles. After they haue set them vppon an heape of erthe to stay them from fallinge, they putt wood vnder which being kyndled one of them taketh great care that the fyre burne equallye Rounde abowt. They or their woemen fill the vessel with water, and then putt they in fruite, flesh, and fish, and lett all boyle together like a galliemaufrye, which the Spaniarde call, olla podrida. Then they putte yt out into disches, and sett before the companye, and then they make good cheere together. Yet are they moderate in their eatinge wher by they auoide sicknes. I would to god wee would followe their exemple. For wee should bee free from many kynes of diseasyes which wee fall into by sumptwous and vnseasonable banketts, continuallye deuisinge new sawces, and prouocation of gluttonnye to sarisfie our vnsatiable appetite.

The differences between John White’s original drawing in the 1588 text and De Bry’s 1590 rendition in a later edition, which I discussed in my previous post, leap out at the viewer. But Hariot’s words serve to paint a more realistic picture.

While such early material must indeed be taken with a grain of salt, Hariot and White’s contributions offer a glimpse into a world seen by few Europeans of the time.

Modern translations of the excerpts follow below.

1. Pagatowr is a kind of grain. It is called maize in the West Indies; Englishmen name it Guinea wheat or Turkey wheat, after the countries from which a similar grain has been brought. This grain is about the size of our ordinary English peas and, while similar to them in form and shape, differs in color, some grains being white, some red, some yellow, and some blue. All of them yield a very white and sweet flour which makes excellent bread. We made malt from the grain while we were in Virginia and brewed as good an ale of it as could be desired. It also could be used, with the addition of hops, to produce a good beer. The grain increases on a marvelous scale-a thousand times, fifteen hundred, and in some cases two thousand fold. There are three sorts, of which two are ripe in ten, eleven, and, at the most, twelve weeks, when their stalks are about six or seven feet in height. The third one ripens in fourteen weeks and is ten feet high. Its stalks bear one, two, three, or four heads, and every head contains five, six, or seven hundred grains, as near as I can say. The inhabitants not only use it for bread but also make food of these grains. They either parch them, boiling them whole until they break, or boil the flour with water into a pap.

2. Their women know how to make earthen vessels with special cunning and that so large and fine, that our potters with their wheels can make no better: and then remove them from place to place as easily as we can do our brass kettles. After they have set them upon a heap of earth to stay them from falling, they put wood under which being kindled one of them takes great care that the fire burn equally round about. They or their women fill the vessel with water, and then put therein fruit, flesh, and fish, and let all boil together like a gallimaufry [hodgepodge], which the Spaniards call olla podrida [burgoo]. Then they put it out into dishes, and set before the company, and then they make good cheer together. Yet are they moderate in their eating whereby they avoid sickness. I would to god we would follow their example. For we should be free from many kinds of diseases which we fall into by sumptous and unseasonable banquets, continually devising new sauces, and provocation of gluttony to satisfy our insatiable appetite.

“For English Girls … in the Eastern Empire”: Housekeeping in British India

By Cynthia D. Bertelsen

An Indian household can no more be governed peacefully, without dignity and prestige, than an Indian Empire.
~ Steel and Gardiner

British Bungalow in India During the Raj. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.
British Bungalow in India During the Raj. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The British Empire at its zenith stretched across more than fourteen million square miles, ruling nearly half a billion people. Social and racial attitudes forged during the long period of colonial and imperial rule still prevail on many levels today. To survive the many unknowns of tropical daily life, British women relied on nineteenth-century household manuals.

Arjun Appadurai, in his much-cited “How to Make a National Cuisine: Cookbooks in Contemporary India”, commented that “[t]he spread of European ideologies of household management in the colonies in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is an important topic for comparative research.” Books such as these provided more than just recipes; they also outlined cultural beliefs and hinted at the overall agenda of Empire–the so-called civilizing mission, wherein women were expected to create a little England amidst the dust, heat and teeming masses of India.

These prescriptive texts form a sub-set of the larger genre of household manuals, of which Isabella Beeton’s Book of Household Managementfondly dubbed Mrs. Beeton–became one of the most popular and long-lived of the nineteenth century. Studying these materials offers culinary historians numerous insights into subliminal communication of “Othering” attitudes by which a relatively small number of British administrators and other personnel ruled the British Empire.

Mrs. Beeton certainly accompanied many women’s voyages out to India, but a whole spate of similar cookbooks, geared specifically toward the Anglo-Indian* housewife, appeared later in the nineteenth century. Women wrote most of these, but some were written by men. For example, Robert Flower Riddell, an Army surgeon at the Nizam of Hyderabad’s court, first published his Indian Domestic Economy and Receipt Book in 1841. The women had lived through it all, following their husbands from one lonely posting to another, suffering through brutal heat in the tropical sun, challenges of feeding families on slim provender, and dealing with servants.

Flora Annie Steel. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Flora Annie Steel. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

One of the best and most thorough of those books was The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, by Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner, dedicated “To THE ENGLISH GIRLS to whom fate may assign the task of being house-mothers in our eastern empire”. The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook followed not only in the footsteps of Mrs. Beeton, but also took heart from a number of other books, such as Riddell’s. Steel and Gardiner’s book underwent at least ten editions between 1888 and 1921 and became the bible of existence for many young English women in India. And elsewhere in the British Empire.

A common theme in these books concerned servants, and more specifically cooks, usually older Muslim men. The creation of social distance made it possible for the household to run as efficiently as the empire, or at least to aspire to do so. Authors accomplished by including derogatory comments, particularly after the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Servants were described as dirty, dishonest, and childish. Steel and Gardiner warned young housewives in India to beware of “the dirty habits which are ingrained in the native cook” (13).

Chapter XXI, “Advice to Cook”, spoke directly to the cook (225):

The next point is to keep yourself clean. Cooks must use their hands a great deal. Some things are better done with the hand than with spoon or fork, but not with dirty hands; so keep a piece of soap and a towel handy by the sink for constant use, and don’t use your hands unnecessarily. Don’t, for example, stir eggs into a pudding with your fingers. They do it very badly.

The Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook, and similar household books, promised to turn British women into astute managers who perpetuated the idea of Empire by creating the essence of England in their households… even if those households abutted up to steamy jungles or vast plains on the Indian subcontinent.

As Steel and Gardiner stated (220), these cookbooks assisted them in the

knowledge really required by a mistress which is that of half-practical, half-theoretical and wholly didactic description which will enable her to find reasonable fault with her servants.

In other words, household management books served as reference books. But a close reading suggests that they also served as models for creating the “Other.”

*Anglo-Indian as used here refers to the British housewife, not as the term now denotes people of mixed British and Indian heritage.