Posts Tagged ‘ancient persian’

Beating Ice Cream

August 13th, 2010

Ask an Arab what Damascus is famous for and chances are they’ll reply: its ice cream. The love story of Damascus and ice cream goes way way back. And by that I mean that it was famous for its ice cream as early as the 10th Century (if not earlier). Go figure.

The history of iced treats go back farther than I thought was possible.  For example, it seems the ancient Persians used to drink an iced fruit syrup (the Arab word for which gave us the words “sherbet”  and “sorbet”) more than two thousand years ago. Apparently, the Persians invented faloodeh, a chilled dessert with rose water and vermicelli, back in 400 BC. Faloodeh is still popular today.

It appears the Arabs were the first to add milk (or cream or yoghurt) as a major ingredient in the making of ice cream. The Arab versions notably differ from Western confections in that they contain mastic, a resin native to the Middle East, and sahlab, an extract from the orchid plant.

The traditional Damascene method of making the ice cream involves churning it and beating down on it with a big pestle/paddle to make it thick and elastic. The ice cream is then rolled in a mixture of crushes cashew and pistachio nuts. The modern Syrian recipes for ice cream apparently can trace back to the recipes from the 10th Century. And those recipes themselves may be based on (much) older ancient Arab, Persian, Greek or other recipes.

Below, a man beats ice cream. To camera left you can see tubs of crushed nuts and to camera right, in the foreground, you can see a tub of churned and beaten ice cream awaiting its turn to be mixed with the nuts.

This picture was made at Bakhdash, an ice cream shop established sometime around 1885 and located in the Al-Hamidiyya Souk in Damascus.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how the ancients used to prepare ice cream and other iced concoctions for serving up in the summer months, then take a look at yakhchals.

More coming soon!


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Flight of the Pigeons

June 19th, 2010

I was wandering down a street at one point, when I noticed a large flock of pigeons flying overhead. They were circling and swooping in tight arcs, round and round. Someone was pigeon flying! Naturally, I paused to watch and snap a few pictures.

The art of pigeon flying remains quite popular in the Arab world. I’ve often see flocks of pigeons circling over the rooftops in Cairo, Beirut and Amman, for instance. But the shot above wasn’t taken anywhere in the Arab world. Can you guess where?

Brussels, Belgium. Yep.

Some say the use of pigeons to carry messages can be traced back to the ancient Persians (some 2800 years ago). The ancient Romans also used messenger pigeons in their military campaigns over 2000 years ago (for example, Julius Caesar was reputed to have used them in his conquest of Gaul). Use of pigeons to carry messages outside of a military setting – in a postal system – goes back to the late 10th Century at least in the Arab world, where it was developed under Fatimid rule.

The use of homing pigeons by the French during the siege of Paris in 1870-1871 gave new breath to their use in the military in Europe who used them extensively during World War I and again in World War II. You can find out more about war pigeons here.

There’s a memorial to those messenger pigeon trainers who fell in service to Belgium during World War I at one end of the garden at the far side of the Quai au Briques. Here’s a shot of it below.

All this may be interesting but it doesn’t explain why someone was flying pigeons in Brussels.

Turns out that the (modern) sport of pigeon racing was developed and gained immense popularity in Belgium in the middle of the 19th Century. The sport has since spread all over the world, though it seems to be suffering from a lack of interest by the general public. You can find out more about pigeon racing here.

More coming soon!


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