I can wax lyrical about Mary Işın's 'Sherbet and Spice' book, which takes ownership of my most referred to Turkish cuisine book title; so 'Bountiful Empire: A History of Ottoman Cuisine' has been high up on my wishlist from the moment I set eyes on its publication.
Financial and logistical hurdles aside, I finally got my hands on it this year and devoured every chapter. Much like S&S, it's detailed, informative and full of pictures to marry the engaging text.
The author is a food historian, and so as one would expect, the book is academic in presentation and research but never dry and always entertaining. I imagine the author is a fun-loving super organised genius. The research and knowledge are patent throughout the book which flows through subjects starting with celebratory events (my favourite), trade & guilds (fascinating), drinks, picnics via coffee houses and ending with drinking.
Spanning more than five centuries, the Ottoman Empire and its cuisine were rich and diverse, as shown through each of the chapters with details from the earliest of dishes, changing habits and manners, international diplomacy influences and the often-varying diets of the classes. Much of the culture of Ottoman cuisine has fazed out, but it's terrific to spot so many connections between modern-day Turkish culture and these vivid origins.
Since purchasing Sherbet and Spice, I have done so often, I expect Beautiful Empire to be a book I refer to and re-read time and time again. I highly recommend it to anyone who has a serious interest in food and/or Ottoman history.
Now, if only I could find a copy of Friedrich Unger A KING'S CONFECTIONER IN THE ORIENT translated by Ms Işın.
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