This section is from the book "The Steward's Handbook And Guide To Party Catering", by Jessup Whitehead. Also available from Amazon: Larousse Gastronomique.
A stew of sheep's heads. This is esteemed one of the greatest triumphs of cookery and the test of a cook's excellence. The heads are scraped, the ears left on and filled with flavored forcemeat; they are then braised and served with a sauce of olive oil and vinegar. More than one good Moslem owes his death to a surfeit of this dainty.
A fish stew. The fish is chopped and gently stewed in butter, balls of minced liver and vegetables are thrown in,, and the whole taken to table with a sauce made of vinegar, capers, mustard, rue, cumin, and celery. Tongues, livers and roes of rare and expensive fish are added to enhance the flavor and cost of this dainty.
A species of sandwich which is supposed to sharpen the appetite. Slices of bread are spread with white chicken meat, grape syrup is poured round it, and the surface is spread with almonds, olives, cheese, and chopped eggs. Wast comes, according to the Arab usages, immediately after such light entrees as tardynah and sanbusaj. The latter is a cross between a ragout and a patty, being' one of the choicest delicacies known to eastern epicures. Esahaq, a famous oracle of the kitchen, bequeathed to his countrymen the recipe for sanbusaj. It is a timbale filled with a paste of pounded cabbage, meat, fat, onions and spices.
The intestines of sheep filled with a composition of rice-flour, chopped meat, and almonds, and formed into a kind of knotted tripe, are also much esteemed by Arab gourmands; and it may take a little of the conceit out of Scotchmen who regard haggis as a special product of Caledonia, to learn that it is an immemorial delicacy of the East.
In the shape of sweets (of which, as everyone knows, all Orientals are inordinately fond), there are two confections which grace every gourmand's dinner table. They are the luzinyeh,' or almond cakes, "distilling tears of sugar and butter," and qutaif, or pancakes. These are served, as in the West, towards the end of the dinner, after a course of "appetizers".
Such as sharp cheese, spiced vinegar, red eggs and olives, pickled fish and asparagus in oil.
Same as the Balaklava cakes of the Turks and Greeks. The luz nyeh consists of thin shells of pastry-the thinness of the dough being the point upon which epicures insist - containing a rich stuffing of almonds and sweet flavoring. They are served swimming in a sauce of melted butter and honey. For a thousand years they have been deemed one of the greatest delicacies of the kitchen. Ahmed Ibn Yahye says of them:
"Appetite cannot so close its portals But the approach of this dish unlocks them".
For all that, qutaif (the ekmek kataifoi the Turks) runs the luzinyeh very close. The qutaif, or pancakes, are thin and leafy, fried in almond oil; and are served up humid with "the oil ozing from them" and a rich syrup "in which they sink and swim," and covered with rose-water. Cold water is not greatly in request among eastern lovers of good cheer. The beverage of the Arab epicure is dushab, a mixture of nebidh (date-water) and dibs (wine juice reduced to a very thick and luscious syrup). From time immemorial this has been the favorite drink of the Bagdad gourmands.
"One of the most interesting Oriental meals I remember taking was with Ali Khan, the Governor of Khoi, a city of western Persia. The dinner was served on a cloth spread on the floor. The Governor and his councellors, grave and dignified old Persians in flowing silk gowns and henna-stained beards, squatted cross-legged around the edge of the cloth. Heaping dishes of rice pilaf, some dyed crimson and some yellow, occupied the center, heaps of flat, thin sheets of bread, boiled mutton, bayaar Icabobs, pastry of sweetened rice-flour, melons, fruit and bowls of iced sherbet. Each Persian had one of the thin sheets of bread spread out before him for a plate; bending over these they scooped up small handfuls of pilaf from the nearest dish, and, rolling it into sizable balls, tossed them dexterously into their mouths. An act of courtesy would be to ferret out some dainty tit-bit of mutton from the dish and place it on one's next neighbor's sheet of dread. No knife, nor fork, nor spoon, nor implement of any kind, was on the table beside the dishes save a porcelain ladle to fill glasses with sherbet from the bowl.
The thin, pliable sheets of bread were used to wipe the finger-tips after handling the greasy mutton, and occasionally a small piece would be torn off and eaten".
The Arabs know how to carve a fowl without having the bird migrate all over the table and finally land in the lap of one of the diners. Five Arabs seat themselves around a large bowl of rice surmounted by a fowl. Two seize the wings with their fingers and two the legs, and simultaneously tearing these off leave the carcass to the fifth. It is probable that they draw lots for the honor of being the fifth. It must be a bad omen to have six men at the table when a fowl is carved in this fashion - that is, bad for the sixth man if he is fond of fowl.