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Restaurants, Inns and Taverns That Never Were: Some Reflections on Public Consumption in Medieval Cairo Author(s): Paulina B. Lewicka Source: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 48, No. 1 (2005), pp. 40-91 Published by: BRILL Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25165078 . Accessed: 30/09/2011 13:24 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected]. BRILL is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. http://www.jstor.org

Restaurants, Inns and Taverns That Never Were: Some Reflections on Public Consumption inMedieval CairoAuthor(s): Paulina B. LewickaSource: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient, Vol. 48, No. 1 (2005), pp.40-91Published by: BRILLStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25165078 .Accessed: 30/09/2011 13:24

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected].

BRILL is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of the Economic andSocial History of the Orient.







The article shows that, contrary to a commonly accepted assumption, no public consumption facilities such as restaurants, taverns or inns existed in medieval Cairo. This was caused on

the one hand by the Egyptians' faithfulness to their own ancient practices and their indiffer ence to pre-Islamic influences of foreign origin, and on the other by the Cairenes' compli ance with the ordinances of the legal sources of Islam. These two factors led to the results

described in the article because they complemented each other, as Islam was rooted in the same ancient social and cultural tradition as Egypt.

Dans cet article on a avance une these que -

malgre une opinion bien etendue - les etab

lissements alimentaires, tels que les restaurants, les tavernes et les auberges, n'existaient pas au Caire medieval. Les causes de cette situation on peut expliquer, d'une part, par l'attache

ment des Egyptiens a leur cultures indigenes et leur indifference aux traditions culturelles

etrangeres, alimentaires indues, provenant d'une epoque preislamique; d'autre part, par le fait

que le comportement des Cairots etait tres strictement lie aux ordonnances de la religion islamique, enracinees dans la meme tradition sociale et religieuse que les traditions egyptiennes. Or, on

peut conclure que les evenements decrits dans cet article pouvaient avoir lieu puisque la tra

dition musulmane concernante les questions presentees ici etait tres strictement liee a la culture indigene.

Keywords: Medieval Cairo, wine consumption, foodways, restaurants, hospitality

1 The term "medieval Cairo," when employed to cover an over 500-year period of the

city's complicated history is convenient but exceptionally imprecise. The adjective "medieval" is used in the present study basically to designate a period from the foundation

of al-Qahira to the Ottoman occupation of the city. The three dynasties that resided in Cairo

during those centuries had rather little in common and it should be kept in mind that Cairo

of the Fatimids, Cairo of the Ayyubids and the city of the Mamluks were as different as the

dynasties themselves. The Fatimid Cairo was a Shi5i-Isma5ili palace city closed to local civil

ians and populated by contingents of multiethnic, largely Berber, troops. The Ayyubid Cairo, reconstructed, urbanized and suddenly opened for ordinary people by Saladin, was rapidly populated by new migrants settling there in search of a better life. And, finally, the Mamluk

Cairo, the abode of the mighty slave army was, at the same time, the metropolis where inter

national learning, thought and business blossomed.

? Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2005 JESHO 48,1 Also available online - www.brill.nl


The secondary literature dealing with the architecture, history, and social life of

the Near East has introduced considerable disorder into the vocabulary con

cerning the gastronomic culture of the medieval Islamic world. The problem involves terms like "restaurant," "tavern," and "inn" that, used by contemporary authors in reference to certain commercial establishments and private spaces of

the area in question, do not always conform with historical reality and thus cause some confusion in our knowledge of many aspects of the social history of the region. This applies to the Egyptian capital as well. The aim of the pre sent study is to correct various misunderstandings and simplifications regarding premises of public consumption that allegedly functioned in medieval Cairo.

This will be done by showing that in fact none of the institutions mentioned

above existed in the city and by explaining, at least partly, why this was so.

Since the problem is particularly interesting in a comparative context, it will

also be discussed by way of collating developments in other cultures. Naturally

enough, many of the problems dealt with below did not concern the Egyptian

metropolis exclusively, but the Islamic world in general. For this reason they will sometimes be referred to in this wider framework. Similarly, many patterns and conclusions applied to Cairo will be valid for other urban centers of Islam as well.

Before passing on to the question of public consumption-houses in medieval

Cairo, one point ought to be clarified, important both for its usefulness for com

parison and simply for the sake of precision. It concerns the semantic confusion

that arose in connection with the terms mentioned above, and with that of the

"restaurant" in particular. It should be born in mind that the West discovered

restaurants, in our sense of the term, relatively late. As late as in 18th-century France, one could only dine out in "inns," establishments where travelers were

lodged and fed; the menu, however, was fixed and served at fixed times (more over, the food offered was known to be generally bad). In the shops of the trai

teurs, the food merchants, people were obliged to buy whole pieces of food

(i.e. whole joints, fowls etc.) and were unable to eat on the premises.2 The

first European continental restaurants worthy of the name appeared in Paris at

the end of the 18th century. As for England, there is some confusion regarding the names of various establishments. The "ale-house" or "tavern," a public

house where liquor was sold and food was supplied for travelers, developed in

2 So that?as Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a famous French gourmand, observed?"those [of

the strangers] who had not the good luck to be invited to some wealthy house left the great

city without knowing the resources and delights of Parisian cuisine;" see A. Brillat-Savarin,

Fizjologia smaku, p. 194; also quoted in: Prosper Montagne, New Larousse Gastronomique,

entry "Restaurant."


time into the "inn," an establishment (so masterfully pictured in The Pickwick

Papers) that offered lodging for the night besides drink and a meal; its name, in turn, started to be applied to a mere public-house that is known today by a

shortened version of this term, a "pub." The restaurant was still "more or less

unknown" in Great Britain at the beginning of the 20th century.3 This accounts for the fact that medieval Western travelers?whose relations

constitute an important part of the source material used in the present research?were familiar with only two types of establishment: the tavern and

the inn. Though applying the term "restaurant" in reference to the Middle Ages may then rightly be considered an anachronism, it will, nevertheless, sometimes

be used below. The main reason for this is that the name was already men

tioned in a number of studies dealing with the subject, which has been one of

the motives behind the present discussion; the other reason is one of conve

nience, for there is no better or clearer term to designate places where food, ordered a la carte, is cooked and served for money by waiters (or by self

service) to the customer who can sit and eat his meal in an eating space. As far as the source material for the history of medieval Cairene eating

establishments is concerned, it does not seem to be essential here to discuss

individual works in detail. The information retrieved from them is so fragmen tary that neither their structure and significance, nor their authors and their cred

ibility, need any particular attention. Some general comments seem to be in

order, though. As already mentioned, the Western travelers' accounts constitute an impor

tant part of the source material used in the present research. True, the European medieval visitors to Cairo, mostly merchants and pilgrims on the way to the

Holy Land, did not care to observe systematically the lifestyle of the autoch

thonous population. Moreover, their lack of personal contact with the local Muslims

(and a very limited contact with the local Christians), as well as mutual enmity and distrust, made many aspects of the Egyptians' and Cairenes' life hidden from the outsiders. But outsiders are frequently far better observers and regis trars of everyday practices than are members of the local population, and for

eign visitors to medieval Cairo were not an exception. The local authors were

rarely interested in recording their own day-to-day activities and did not con

sider their own habits worth putting down on paper. As is the case with any

documentary recordings, the credibility of travelers' accounts might often be

debatable, and one has to treat them with caution. These rather obvious short

3 Cf. Montagne, loc. cit.; also Encyclopedia Britannica (New York 1910, 11th edition),

entries "Club," "Inn and Innkeeper," "Public house" and "Tavern."



comings should not, however, diminish the value of the Western travel litera ture as an archive of eye-witnesses' accounts.

In the case of medieval Cairo, as in the case of any other medieval Islamic

city, we lack sources that are essential for studying the European urban life of

the time: municipal documents, guilds' registers, etc. Despite this specific deficiency, Arabic sources, both Egyptian and foreign, are fundamental for discussing and

understanding the city's infrastructure and the ways of its population. The

choice of Arabic-language sources employed in the present study is far more

diverse than that of Western sources: it ranges from the hisba (or "market

inspector's") manuals, through chronicles, "table manners" manuals, topograph ical works, travelers' accounts, theological treatises to records of the Prophet

Muhammad's and his contemporaries' practices as preserved in the hadits.4 The sources are thus numerous and diversified. None of them, however, contains a

single record which would deal with the question of the eating establishments in Cairo in any comprehensive or informative manner.

* * *

For various reasons, the medieval Cairenes generally did not cook at home?

they rather used the services offered by the cooks in the city streets and bazaars.

Indeed, for the majority of the city inhabitants, the easiest?if not the only? way to get a warm meal was to buy ready-made food in the street.5 In the culi

nary center of medieval Cairo, located along the main thoroughfare of the

Fatimid city that ran from Bab al-Futuh in the North to Bab Zuwayla in the

South among the mosques, madrasas, and shops, there were hundreds of stands

where fried, boiled and roasted dishes were sold day and night. Street kitchens

and food stands were of course also present, though with less density, all over the city. Apart from these there existed a network of "peddling restaurateurs,"

who carried on their heads a kind of portable ceramic oven in whose upper chamber, over the glowing embers, a pot or small grills were placed. Because of the constant and common demand, the offer of public kitchens was assorted

enough to satisfy various tastes and meet various financial capabilities of the customers.

4 In the present study, the hadlts are used as, above all, records of customs, habits, man

ners and attitudes prevailing in the environment the Prophet lived in?including the early Islamic community in Medina as well as the Arab communities of the neighboring habitats.

5 They could do it by either preparing their dish at home and carrying it to the public oven

to have it cooked, or by buying a ready meal straight from the cook's stand. For more on

the street kitchens services in Cairo see Paulina B. Lewicka, "Twelve Thousand Cooks and a Muhtasib. Some Remarks on Food Business in Medieval Cairo," SAI, 10 (2002): 7-19.



The quantity of places where ready-made food was being sold shocked many of the Western travelers who visited Cairo between the 13th and 16th centuries.6

The number of street cooks in the city was sometimes said to equal twenty thousand,7 and sometimes ten8 or twelve thousand.9 Leo Africanus's calculation seems to provide the most reliable data: by his count there were about sixty kitchens serving boiled meat from tin vessels in the Bayn al-Qasrayn area.10

Although he speaks of the busiest artery and trading place in the city,11 sixty stands serving meat along a section not longer than 300 meters is still a lot,

especially considering that meat constituted just a part of a very sophisticated street menu. All these numbers obviously must be treated with much caution, for none of the authors?except, maybe, Leo Africanus?counted the cooks per

sonally. It is impossible today to estimate the number of gastronomers in the

6 See, e.g., Felix Fabri, Voyage en Egypte de Felix Fabri 1483, trans. J. Masson, II,

p. 568; Bernhard von Breydenbach, Peregrynacya arabska albo do grobu s. Katarzyny Panny y Meczenniczki, ktorq Aniolowie ?wieci w Arabiey na gorze Synai pogrzebli, Zacnych ludzi

niektorych rodu Niemieckiego, w roku panskim 1483 pielgrzymowanie, pp. 65-66; Emmanuel

Piloti, UEgypte au commencement du quinzieme siecle dapres le Traite d'Emmanuel Piloti

de Crete (incipit 1420), p. 108; Leonardo Frescobaldi, Giorgio Gucci, Simone Sigoli, Visit to the Holy Places of Egypt, Sinai, Palestine and Syria in 1348, by Frescobaldi, Gucci & Sigoli. Translated from Italian by Theophilus Bellorini and Eugene Hoade; with a preface and notes

by Bellarimo Bagati, pp. 49, 167; Pero Tafur, Travels and Adventures 1435-1439, ed. and trans. Malcolm Letts, p. 100; Arnold von Harff, The Pilgrimage of Arnold von Harff, Knight,

from Cologne through Italy, Syria, Egypt, Arabia, Ethiopia, Nubia, Palestine, Turkey, France, and Spain, Which he Accomplished in the Years 1496 to 1499, pp. 109-110; Jean Thenaud, Le voyage d'Outremer (Egypte, Mont Sinay, Palestine), suivi de la relation de Vambassade

de Domenico Trevisan aupres du Soudan dEgypte 1512, pp. 47, 210. 7 Mikolaj K. Radziwill, Mikolaja Krzysztofa RadziwiUa peregrynacja do Ziemi Swietej (1582

1584), in Archiwum do Dziejow Literatury i Oswiaty w Polsce, XV, pt. II, p. 91. 8 Samuel Purchas, Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas his Pilgrimes, repr. by James MacLehose

and Sons 1905, p. 653, mentioned in von Harff, Pilgrimage, p. 109, n. 2. 9

Fabri, Voyage, II, p. 568; Breydenbach, Peregrynacya, pp. 65-66. The same number was

also mentioned by J. Tucher (quoted in: von Harff, Pilgrimage, p. 109, n. 2). Arnold von

Harff, who visited the city in the end of the 15th century, multiplies the number: Cairo's

24,000 lanes that are mentioned in his account had direct impact on the number of cooks: "a

cook and two bread-bakers are provided for each street, so that there are in the town 24,000 cooks and 48,000 bread bakers." He also gives some additional data: "Although there are

many streets without cooks or bakers, there are countless alleys with a hundred or a hun

dred-fifty cooks." Von Harff's numbers, however, should not be given too much credit. 10

Jean-Leon l'Africain, Description de VAfrique, trans. A. Epaulard, p. 504. According to

Frescobaldi the cauldrons were made of copper (Visit, p. 49). Actually, the vessels were the

most probably made of tin-coated copper. 11

Al-MaqrizI remembered times when, after the afternoon prayer, the bird-meat fryers used to sell their goods while sitting in a row that stretched all the way from al-Kamil's

madrasa to the door of madrasa of an-Nasir (which had to take place before 1384-86 or

before az-Zahir Barquq built his madrasa in the area; see al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-Mawd'iz wa

l-Ttibar bi-Dikr al-Hitat wa-l-Atdr, II, p. 29).



city. This group, however, was certainly numerous enough to be perceived as

one of the city's characteristic marks, together with the water-carriers and the

Cairo poor. Naturally enough, it rarely happened that a foreign visitor to Cairo

failed to mention the cooks in his travel accounts. Almost never, however, would he notice or visit a public place where food was served.

While commenting on the question of restaurants in medieval Cairo, Robert

Irwin states they were "more or less unknown."12 In fact, a dish ordered or

bought from a street kitchen was usually put in a pot or a special meal carrier

and delivered, by servants and cooks' boys, to homes, caravanserais, shops, craftsmen workshops, etc. This concerned the majority of the city's population. The financial elite was served by their own cooks and ate in their palaces and

villas. As for Cairo's poor who were "more numerous than the whole popula tion of Venice, including the rabble,"13 most of them used to eat either at the

cook's stand, or on the ground. They purchased a common bowl, then "gath ered in a corner and sat there to eat their meal."14 We can assume that the peo

ple who, as the European traveler put it, "spread a skin on the ground, placed a vessel with food in the centre, and sat around on the ground with legs crossed or squatting,"15 belonged to the lowest stratum of the city population. A "hall"

(qa'af) in Harat ar-Rum, mentioned (ca. 587/1191) by al-Qadi al-Fadil, where

"a group of people was to gather and have their lunch on a Ramadan day there, and nobody said a word to them,"16 can by no means designate any public com

mercial eating-house?this record, apparently based on a hearsay, was to com

plement the author's list of sinful activities practiced and tolerated in certain areas of Cairo.

The only record that makes one think of a restaurant in the context of

medieval Cairo may be that by Domenico Trevisan. In the travel account of this Venetian ambassador who visited the city in 1512 (i.e. over quarter of a mil

lennium before the restaurant was invented in Paris), we read that "the Moors do not eat at home; they enter one of those little shops ("boutiques") and they take their meal. When one passes by the shops, one breathes in a nauseating smell."17 What Trevisan meant by "boutiques" could not constitute any kind of

larger eating-houses; rather, they were, with much probability, similar to (if not

12 Robert Irwin, The Arabian Nights. A Companion, p. 127. 13

Breydenbach, Peregrynacya, p. 59. 14

Fabri, Voyage, p. 109. 15

Frescobaldi, Visit, p. 49; P.-H. Dopp, "Le Caire: Vu par les voyageurs occidentaux du Moyen Age," Bulletin de la Societe Royale de Geographic d'Egypte, pt. I, XXIII (1950): p. 135.

16 Al-Maqrlzi, Hitat, II, p. 24.

17 Thenaud, Voyage, p. 210.



identical with) al-Maqrlzi's "hawdnit at-tabbahin" the "cooks' shops," where

only one dish (of a rather mediocre quality) was cooked and where the city's poor (al-fuqard*) ate their food from earthenware bowls.18 Al-Maqrizi's remark,

suggesting that these facilities' category was below the level acceptable even for

"ordinary" middle-class Cairenes, allows us to infer they could be nothing more

than small self-service cook's shops, with bare soil or just a mat or piece of

leather spread on the ground, and possibly a jug of water in the corner.

"The Story of Wazlr Nur ad-Din and His Brother Sams ad-Din," where a

servant is rebuked and beaten for taking the wazlr's son to a Damascene cook's

shop (dukkdn at-tabbdh), seems to confirm the inferior status of (at least some

of) the street cooks' shops. True, the two ate the most deliciously prepared

pomegranates there, but in general the contempt towards such places could be

tantamount with the poor quality, which might explain Trevisan's impression of a "nauseating smell" and Jean Thenaud's horror with the degree of dirt in the

street kitchens.19

The two travelers' disgust20 can hardly be used to confirm definitely the

mediocre quality of the bazaar kitchens in general. In fact, these facilities were,

naturally enough, of varying quality and served different classes of Cairo's pop ulation. It seems, however, that it was only the poor who used some of them as "restaurants" and that it was the lowest-grade of the street cooks' shops that

the poor dared, or were allowed to, enter. Thus "hawanit at-tabbahin," with their

miserable clientele, were, most probably, the only kind of public eating-houses in medieval Cairo and the only premises that, with much indulgence, could be called "restaurants." Since, however, the establishments' services resembled

those of the soup-kitchen, or some of the Roman tabernae21 rather than the restaurants as we know them, it would be more appropriate to refrain from

applying the term in the context of the Egyptian capital in the Middle Ages. What Edward Lane observed during his first stay in Egypt can in fact be used

18 Al-Maqrizi, Hitat, II, p. 95.

19 Thenaud, Voyage, p. 47.

20 It was not shared by all Western visitors. Actually some of them, including Mikolaj Radziwill or Pero Tafur, liked the local food. For Mustafa cAli of Gallipoli, a Turkish his

torian who visited Cairo in 1599, the food that was cooked in the bazaars was indigestible; Mustafa cAll's Description of Cairo of 1599. Text, Transliteration, Translation, Notes by Andreas Tietze, p. 41.

21 The taberna, something akin to modern inn if placed along the roads that radiated from

Rome, signified a booth, a wine-shop, or an eating-house if it was located in the city itself; cf. Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit., entry "Inn and Innkeeper." For details on the Roman

establishment see, e.g., Patrick Faas, Around the Table of the Romans: Food and Feasting in Ancient Rome, pp. 41-45 and Tonnes Kleberg, Hotels, Restaurants et cabarets dans I'anti

quite romaine, passim.



to support the above conclusions about both the absence of restaurants in the

medieval city and the inferior status of street cooks' shops. In the years 1833

1835 he noted "the common habit which the tradespeople have of eating in their

shops,"22 as well as the fact that there were "many cook's shops, where kebab

and various other dishes are cooked and sold; but it is seldom that persons eat

at these shops, generally sending to them for provisions (. . .). Shopkeepers often procure their breakfast or dinner from one of these cooks, who are called

'tabbakhs.'"23 Hundreds of years of violent history clearly did not affect the

Cairenes' eating habits too deeply: by the mid-19th century the rich still con

sumed their food at home, "tradespeople" in their shops, and eating at the street

cook's was generally avoided. Moreover, it was still only the poor who used

the services of their ersatz restaurants, whose status remained invariably low:

"many persons of the lower orders eat at the shop of the Jatatiree' (or seller of fateerehs), or at that of the 'fowwaV (or bean-seller)."24

In the light of the above observations it becomes intriguing that the inhabi tants of medieval Baghdad might not share the problems of the Cairenes. For,

according to the opinion presented by a number of scholars,25 the inhabitants of

the urban centers of the Abbasid empire could, and often did, eat their meals in

restaurants. This claim, resting partly on Tsa Ibn Hisam's adventures pictured by al-Hamadani in his "Al-Maqama al-Bagdadiyya," and partly on al-Muqaddasi's account on harisa-makers' shops, merits a commentary.

As for M. Ahsan's assertion (made in the context of the shops selling harisa, or meat porridge) that "the proprietor of the restaurant provided the customers

22 Edward W. Lane, Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, p. 327. Edward

Lane's work (mid-19th century) is the first concise and fully trustworthy written record of

Egyptian manners and customs, though his observations, priceless as they are, constitute a

modern ethnographic material. There can be no doubt that if they concerned, for instance,

19th-century Europe, they would not prove useful for studies on 13th-century European society, even as an auxiliary source. A 19th-century Cairene, however, would notice more

similarities than differences between the old world and the one of his own, for in the 19th

century the great cultural changes only started to come to Cairo. Until that time, the city pop ulation lived their traditional life for, to quote an Egyptian scholar, "when the years do not

bring anything new, [the Egyptian] is not likely to look for change." Since Lane wrote his

survey on the eve of these events, his notes may prove to be a useful addition to what the

earlier sources indicate. 23

Lane, Manners, pp. 320-321. See also p. 156, where Lane observes that around the

noon-prayer time the tradesman "eats a light meal, such as a plate of kebab and a cake of

bread (which a boy or maid daily brings from his house or procures in the market), or some

bread and cheese or pickles, etc., which are carried about the streets for sale." 24 Loc. cit. 25

Muhammad M. Ahsan, Social Life Under the Abbasids, p. 152; Aly Mazaheri, Zycie codzienne muzuimanow w sredniowieczu, p. 157; Maxime Rodinson, "Ghidha3," Encyclopedia

of Islam, 2nd edn. II.



with perfect waiting service (. . .),"26 it should be taken with a degree of cau

tion. One ought to bear in mind that al-Muqaddasi's (IV/X century) account of

harlsa-makers' shops (dakdkin al-harrasiri), on whose upper floor there were "mats,

tables, murri21 servants, basins (vessels), jugs and usnan2% and if a man entered

the place, it cost him a daniq [a small ancient coin, 1/6-1/8 of the weight of

the dirham]"29 referred to the celebration of date harvest and the time of arrival

of the fruit loads to al-Wasit. Applying this description to day-to-day life in the

entire Abbasid Empire does not seem to be fully justified;30 nor is calling the

establishment with a fixed price and one-item menu a "restaurant."

Though Tsa Ibn Hisam's story deals with a quite different type of establish

ment, similar conclusions may be applied to it. The Baghdad shop where Tsa

Ibn Hisam ate his meal possesses features that made it profoundly differ from

both the al-Wasit harisa shops and the cooks' establishments in the Egyptian

capital. These features include, above all, the possibility to eat in?though, unlike the customers of some of the harisa shops, Tsa apparently did not

go upstairs with his food, nor was he asked to pay a fixed fee before he ate it; the check, whose value clearly depended on the size of the order, was settled

after consumption. Moreover, the sawwd^s (or roasted-meat seller's) shop in

Baghdad, unlike the hawanit at-tabbahin in Cairo, was clearly not designed to serve as the fast-food place for the poor, nor was it considered as being of infe

rior status: the customers must have come from middle- and upper middle-class, for Ibn Hisam's sophisticated demands concerning both the meat and the sweets

reveal that the food was of the highest quality. The menu itself?against the common reading of the story?seems, however, to have been an one-item menu.

Though Ibn Hisam's elaborate order concerning the carefully roasted meat with

26 Ahsan, Social Life, loc. cit.

27 Murri was a bitter seasoning made of cereal grain, barley and wheat; the three-month

long process of its preparation consisted basically in adding dried bread to a vessel contain

ing a seasoned solution of oil and water and stirring it daily; for details see David Waines, In a Caliph's Kitchen, p. 25; idem, "The Culinary Culture of al-Andalus," in The Legacy of

Muslim Spain, ed. S. K. Jayyusi, p. 729; F. Aubaile-Sallenave, "Parfums, epices et condi

ments dans 1'alimentation arabe medievale", in La alimentacion en las culturas islamicas.

Una coleccion de estudios editados por Manuela Marin y David Waines, ed. M. Marin and

D. Waines, p. 225. 28 Saltwort or potash that was used for washing hands and, sometimes, mouths. 29

Al-Muqaddasi, Ahsan at-taqdsim fi ma'rafat al-aqdlim, ed. M. J. de Goeje, p. 129. 30

As for the two-storied structure of the shop's edifice, it was not an unusual architectural

style in Iraq: cf., for instance, the two-storied wine-hall (daskara) in cAna from al-Wasiti's

illustrations to Maqdmdt of al-Hariri (the miniature has been studied in detail by Shirley Guthrie, Arab Social Life in the Middle Ages: an Illustrated Study, p. 182). The same daskara was pictured by a Syrian artist in an entirely different style (see Esin Atil, Renaissance of Islam. Art of the Mamluks, p. 258, ill. 6).


sumac sauce and masterfully prepared nut and almond pastry suggest there was

an assortment of dishes on offer; in fact both the meat and sweets appear to be two parts of one dish.31

So, did the inhabitants of medieval Baghdad share the problems of the

Cairenes, or did they not? Neither of the two examples points to the existence

in Baghdad of what might be called a "restaurant." We might even go further

and consider a hypothesis that the city of Baghdad, like the city of Cairo, could not really boast an establishment that might be called a "restaurant," but two

examples are not enough to prove that. Besides, what matters is the fact that

the Baghdadis (and probably the Iraqi townsmen in general), unlike the

Cairenes, apparently enjoyed eating out. Since the opinion regarding Baghdadis eating their meals in "restaurants" is occasionally applied to the Islamic world in general,32 we should keep in mind that what held for Iraq was not necessar

ily applicable to Egypt. Cairo and Baghdad, with their unique local features and

very individual social histories, are as different as two cities of one civilization can be.33 And, some obvious similarities notwithstanding, simple analogies

31 So even this establishment, commonly perceived to be a multi-item menu restaurant, should not be regarded as such. For the discussion on the food (guddba and lawzinag) served to ?Isa Ibn Hisam see Charles Perry, "What to Order in Ninth-Century Baghdad," in Medieval

Arab Cookery: Essays and Translations by Maxime Rodinson, A. J. Arberry and Charles

Perry, pp. 219-23. To split the hair further, though, one may observe that even if the meat was essential for preparing the sweet almond pastry (while in the oven, it was put under the

roasted meat to catch running fat and meat juices), the two were served separately and order

ing one might not necessarily obligate the customer to order the other as well. 32

Rodinson, "GhidhaV As for the "dukdndn-i tabbdkhdn," the alleged "restaurants" of

pre-Mughal Delhi as mentioned by I. H. Siddiqi, "Food Dishes and the Catering Profession in Pre-Mughal India," Islamic Culture, 59 (1985): pp. 133-4, the lack of detailed studies or

clear historical records does not allow us to ascertain whether the establishments were restau rants or simple street cooks' stands.

33 The word "civilization" used in the sentence refers to the Arabic-Islamic civilization. It

is generally acceptable to use this designation in reference to the areas united in the course

of the Arab conquests (roughly 632 AD-732 AD) under one (Arabic) language, one (Islamic)

religion and one (Islamic) legal system. The beginning of the Ottoman occupation of most

of the Arab world (early 16th century) might be accepted as the closing stage of what is meant by the concept of "Arabic-Islamic civilization." Obviously enough, any unity of a ter

ritory ranging, roughly, from the shores of the Atlantic to the Iranian borders was out of the

question?from its very beginning, the empire constituted a political, religious, ethnic, cul

tural and linguistic mosaic. All the local variations and diversities notwithstanding, one of the

effects of the Arab domination over the above-mentioned territory was a certain degree of

what might be called "standardization" in many domains of political, social, intellectual and

material culture produced therein. Taking this context into consideration, Baghdad and Cairo were not only the two metropolises of the same civilization but also the most flourishing and

culture-productive urban centers on its map. The "standardization" does not necessarily mean

the cities shared a lot. But it undoubtedly means that they can be compared by the same cri

teria to what might be called an abstract model of the Islamic city?enough to mention the


should not be made between these cities in almost any area of research. The

gastronomic traditions and customs of their societies are not an exception here.

Their own cultural heritage, the distinct origins of their social habits, and the

peculiar attitude of their rulers gave the Baghdadis, since the early days of their

city's history, the potential to enjoy going out to spend their evenings in the

famous wine-houses and "taverns" located along the banks of the Tigris. That

being so, it seems reasonable to assume that going out to have one's meal? even if it was only in the roasted-meat seller's shop?had to come naturally for

somebody who customarily used to go out to have his drinks in a commercial

establishment (or who was at least a witness to such a practice). The Cairenes,

however, had to wait until the 16th century, when the coffeehouses appeared, to

spend their free time out. That the popular pre-Islamic Mesopotamian tradition

of drinking out could have paved the way for the public eating-premises in

Abbasid Baghdad, and that medieval Cairenes did not have a similar pattern to

follow,34 may be an important clue. It does not explain, though, why in 19th

century Cairo, when going out to have coffee was already a deep-rooted habit,

nobody cared to eat out.

What were, then, the deeper reasons behind the absence of restaurants in medieval

Cairo? While commenting on the importance of culinary manuals for studies on

Arab-Islamic domestic life, David Waines, an unquestionable authority on the

comparability of the two cities' foundations, their topography or administration, their econ

omy or their populations' daily life. 34 There is no room here to exploit the question the way it deserves, but a short explana

tion is indispensable. The ancient Egyptians drank a lot, though the quality of the beverage differed?which is not unusual?according to the social level: while the common people could afford only beer or some "poor" wine, the well-to-do and the elites enjoyed very fine

wines, either local or imported. Except for the work of Pierre Montet, who maintains there were "cabarets" or taverns in ancient Egypt (La vie quotidienne en Egypte au temps des Ramses (XIIIe-XIIe siecles avant J.-C), pp. 90, 94), the present author was unable to find in

the secondary literature any indication of the existence of this kind of establishment. There

is, however, a number of historical records that mention merry social gatherings and sym

posia which were, however, not quite the same as cabarets (cf. William J. Darby et al., Food: The Gift of Osiris, II, pp. 581-592). In Hellenistic Egypt, the Greeks kept taverns in

their cities, but these were Greek, not Egyptian cities and the Greek ways, unlike those of Persians in Mesopotamia, never affected the lives of the native population.

The author is, at the same time, fully aware of what Herodotus said about the ancient

Egyptians customarily eating "their food out of doors in the streets" (II, 35). Unfortunately, the Greek historian did not dwell on the subject, and the Egyptian documentary sources are

too scarce to enable any description of the ancient Egyptians' family meals (Montet, La vie

quotidienne, p. 92). We can nevertheless assume that Herodotus' words did not imply that the local population consumed their food in the markets or taverns?what the Greek histo rian probably meant was that the Egyptians ate in the courtyards or front yards of their

houses, and not inside them.


Middle Eastern and Andalusian culinary traditions, set the Arab customs of

entertainment against those of China, where the practice of eating together in

public places such as restaurants and tea houses was thought to be well-estab

lished. Waines' interpretation of the reasons behind the Arab-Chinese dissimi

larities is that the Arab "hospitality of the table, whether with family, friends,

political allies or others was a matter of the private, not the public domain."

This assumption seems to offer an interesting direction in which to look for an

explanation of the existence of restaurants in medieval Cairo?or, rather, of

their absence.35 Since, however, the author does not indicate what criteria he

used to differentiate between the "private" and the "public" domains, nor where

the line between them runs, the theory does not clarify much if left unqualified. If the concept of the two domains and hospitality is to be applied to eating

premises in medieval Cairo, its correctness has to be verified. To do this, some

comments are necessary.

The medieval European public law was clear: the house and its yard, sepa rated from the outer world by a railing or a wall, constituted a private property (res privatae, res familiares) that was protected by this law.36 No corresponding division into the public and the private spheres of life was ever made in Islamic

law, nor were the two notions themselves ever explicitly defined by it. Caliph cUmar's perception of privacy, for example, was by no means similar to that of,

say, al-Gazali's: while the former used to spy on people from the roofs of their

houses to check if they were engaged in any sinful practices, the latter was of

the opinion that spying on or persecuting anyone at his own home was a

much graver sin than any possible offence committed within the home space.37

35 "The Culinary Culture of al-Andalus", p. 726. A short comment on the "Chinese" aspect of the above comparison is necessary. In his paper on Yuan and Ming periods (1271-1368 and 1368-1644 respectively), Frederick W. Mote mentions "restaurants" a number of times:

first, when he apparently means the hui-kuan inns for travelers that were also used by the local inhabitants, particularly to cater to large dinner parties in their homes; then when he

speaks of some "restaurants" specializing in particular dishes. Finally, he mentions "restau rants" while describing the great wine-halls in Nanking that were a "combination of brothels and restaurants as well as hostelries for government guests" ("Yuan and Ming," in Food in

Chinese Culture. Anthropological and Historical Perspectives, ed. K. C. Chang, pp. 244-7). In fact these three cases do not seem to sufficiently support the claim that "the practice of

eating together in public places such as restaurants (. ..) was well established" in China by the Middle Ages. 36

See, e.g., Historia zycia prywatnego. Od Europy feudalnej do renesansu, ed. Georges

Duby, pp. 26-29. 37 Even more than that: while the former used to break somebody's wine jars, the latter

considered the jars?even if filled with forbidden drink?a private, and thus untouchable,

property. Al-Gazali went so far as to protest against molesting a notorious drunkard suspected of hiding a bottle under his clothes?his ill reputation was not, according to al-Gazali,



Al-Gazall's views, which could be paraphrased in Edward Coke's famous

words: "For a man's house is his castle (. ..)," are indeed not inconsistent with

medieval Western perception of private sphere. The above remarks, sketchy as

they are, allow us to agree that what the old European law considered "the pri vate domain," and what the most outstanding Islamic thinker understood as

such, includes a man's house, his movable and immovable property and his

family living in it. The space outside the fence, or the house walls, as opposed to the space indoors, may thus be called "public."

There are, however, precedents recorded in Islamic legal sources that seem

to question the accuracy of this distinction. Reports of the Prophet and some of

the Companions dropping in on somebody's place without former invitation

and, sometimes, even eating the absent host's food,38 are symptomatic. What

they indicate in the context in question is that the Arabic-Islamic virtue of hos

pitality in fact "deprivatised" most of the extra-harim space, leaving it easily accessible to "others," to any invited or unexpected guest. This means that "the

private domain" as we understand it was in the Arabic-Islamic tradition trans

gressable, and that true privacy was limited to what was "behind the veil," or

to the female enclosure of the dwelling. If, on the other hand, we refer to the modern understanding of privacy, the

one that relates the notion to "the interests individuals have in limiting the access of others to them (.. .),"39 we would find no Qur'anic verse, or Prophetic Tradition, or pre-Islamic custom, that could correspond to this definition in the

context of hospitality. On the contrary, this was an ancient desert virtue adopted by Islam which obligated a man to welcome his guest and share his food with

him, a custom that had become a "virtue sine qua non" for every individual of

the entire Arab-Islamic world. Sentences like "[The best practices of Islam are]

enough reason to search, or to question him. Al-Gazall's idea of the man's inviolable rights to his private property strongly conformed with the words of the Qur'anic Revelation:

"Believers, do not enter the dwellings of other men until you have asked their owners' per mission and wished them peace" (XXIV:27); nevertheless, this ordinance never found too

many followers among the rulers or scholars of Islam. Many of them were rather more like

caliph cUmar and did not even consider the existence of any private domain (enough to men

tion, for example, Ibn al-Hagg complaining about ladies who used to wear incomplete dress

while at home). 38

Al-Gazali, Al-Ghazdli on the Manners Relating to Eating. Kitdb Addb al-Akl, Book XI

of the Revival of the Religious Sciences, Transl., intr. and notes by D. Johnson-Davies, pp. 21-22. According to al-Gazali, "it is possible to enter a house without asking permission, it

being sufficient to know that permission would be granted." The reason to use al-Gazali's

writings was to quote not a religious or legal opinion, but a record of possible attitudes. 39 R. Garison, "Privacy: Legal Aspects," International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral

Sciences, http://www.sciencedirect.com.



giving food and greeting people you know and those you do not know"40 speak for themselves.

Summing up, there is no Arab custom or Islamic principle related to eating that would confine Arab hospitality of the table to the private domain and, con

sequently, exclude it from the public one. Similarly, there is nothing that would

in any way suggest that anyone limit the access of "others" to him as far as the

hosting and feeding of a guest is concerned. What, however, seems to be dis

tinctive for Arabic-Islamic hospitality is that it referred, by the force of tradi

tion (and out of necessity in the desert environment), to the host's territory?a notion by no means identical with that of "the private domain" (enough to

remember Muhammad's lot in Medina that, besides including his wives' huts,

played the roles of mosque, muhdgirun or Meccan emigrants night's lodging

ground, reception hall, eating-house, and community council's seat as well; no

doubt private property and private territory that, however, could hardly be called

private domain). The Arabic-Islamic hospitality could, then, work only on the host's territory?be it a clan's camp, a house, an apartment in the caravanserai

or a shop in the local market. Going to a public place, full of alien persons, in

order to receive one's guest and share one's food with him, simply did not

make sense in this context.41

Moreover, there was no pattern in the Cairenes' behavior that would allow them to perceive their eating customs as a consequence of confining "the

hospitality of the table" to the private domain. The customs of entertainment

that prevailed in Cairo did not in fact exclude eating in public places. True,

people, though not all of them, ate and fed their guests at home; true, all the ambassadors and foreign agents were always received (and often hosted) at the

caliphs', sultans' and local officials' private palaces and villas. But there were also some phenomena in the domain of "hospitality of the table" whose "pri vacy" appears to be somewhat relative. For example, at various public food

parties organized by the Fatimid rulers, the festive swats' victuals, after hav

ing been paraded through the streets of Cairo and al-Fustat, were consumed by the city inhabitants;42 or, as on Coptic holidays celebrated (up to the 15th

40 Al-Ghazdli on the Manners, p. xiv.

41 A certain break in the host-guest relation was to come only with the introduction of a

coffeehouse by the early 16th century, when the act of hospitality was transferred to a pub lic place. It was only from then on that one's territory with all its "trappings and symbols of

proprietorship" was no longer required to invite a guest and share something with him. See

Ralph Hattox, Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval

Middle East, pp. 98-100. 42

See, e.g., the Fatimid chronicle of al-Musabbihi (366-420/977-1029), Ahbdr Misr, I, pp. 65, 66; on public banquets and food distributions organized by Mamluk officials see Adam



century) by Christians and Muslims together, during which eating and drinking in public was a customary practice. There were also Islamic "saint days" (mawdlid) with their traditional sweets, and there was visiting of the graves

(ziydrdt al-qubuf) during which one could enjoy good food.43 And there were

also the city's poor who used to eat right on the street. Last but not least, there were pleasure boats on the Nile on whose decks snacks were consumed, and

there were garden-parties held on the Rawda island at the Nilometer44 and in

various other gardens and orchards where,45 as a Flemish traveler observed with

bewilderment, "the seigneurs, the notables, and the merchants pass their free

time (. . .). They often spend ten or twelve days there without leaving the place. Some of them in the small houses, others in the tents, still others in the little

pavilions. They bring with them their foods and drinks and all that is necessary. One can see a lot of women walking and visiting them, and having a very good time. Truly, they live here as in paradise."46

Indeed, as far as eating and entertainment were concerned, nothing seemed

to favor, or stress the need of, the private domain. Furthermore, there exists a

premise, in form of a certain social practice, that allows us to assert that the

absence of restaurants in Cairo did not necessarily mean there was no social

need for a more stable establishment where one could not only spend his free

time out but eat as well. Ibn Sa'id al-Magribi, an Andalusian who lived in Cairo

Sabra, Poverty and Charity in Medieval Islam. Mamluk Egypt 1250-1517, pp. 50-55 and the

references therein; cf. also Mustafa 'All's (end of the 16th century) observations on the mem

bers of the Cairo elite giving banquets to the city's inhabitants; Mustafa cAll's Description, pp. 49-50.

Though it has no consequence for the present study, it is nevertheless worth noticing that

the sugar sculptures that in Fatimid times were paraded through the city at the end of Ramadan (in the year 415/1025 they were 152 figures and 7 castles; al-Musabbihl, Ahbdr

Misr, p. 65), had their counterparts in ancient Palestine (to where they probably had come

from ancient Egypt; Henri Daniel-Rops, Zycie w Palestynie w czasach Chrystusa, p. 182) and in Muslim Spain (see Fernando de la Granja Santamaria, Estudios de historia de Al-Andalus,

pp. 187-245, 208-221 /"Fiestas cristianas en Al-Andalus"/). 43

Christopher S. Taylor, In the Vicinity of the Righteous: Ziydra and the Veneration of Muslim Saints in Late Medieval Egypt, pp. 65, 77.

44 Where, during the days of the inundation of the Nile, people ate grilled food, sweets

and fruits (al-Maqrizi, Hitat, I, p. 106). 45

Particularly in those grown in XIV and XV centuries inside the triangle made up by the

roads connecting al-Qahira, al-Fustat and Bulaq, where there were "many promenades (...) and beautiful little pleasure houses, and all kinds of plants, delicate and smelling, and fruits of every kind." Joos van Ghistele, Le voyage en Egypte de Joos van Ghistele 1482-1483,

p. 47. 46 Van Ghistele, Voyage, pp. 57, 60. See also Mustafa ?All's description of "the strange

festivities," Mustafa 'All's Description, p. 49. On gardens of Cairo in the Fatimid times see

S. D. Goitein, "Cairo: An Islamic City in the Light of the Geniza Documents," in Middle Eastern Cities, ed. I. M. Lapidus, p. 86.



for some years in the 40s and 60s of the 13th century, was shocked with the

practices he noticed in the Friday mosque of al-Fustat. What he saw included the hucksters selling all kinds of sweets and nuts in the temple and the people consuming the snacks right in the mosque, apparently with no feelings of con

fusion (in fact the remnants of food scattered all over the courtyard and the cor

ners of the mosque suggest that not only cakes and nuts were eaten there).47 One could wash the food down with water distributed in vessels by local boys, who circulated among the eating people and earned their living this way. Ibn

Sa'id was equally surprised to see other local phenomena: the children playing in the mosque's courtyard, some black and red graffiti scribbled on the walls, or local people walking across the edifice, as this was their shortcut to the

neighboring street.

Though al-Magribi's account pictures the situation in only one particular mosque in al-Fustat, we can presume that the situation in at least some of the

sanctuaries of al-Qahira, as well as of some other parts of the Islamic world, was very much the same.48 The food sellers (and others) quite early on discov ered that the mosque building was a perfect place for trading and that the mer

chandise sold very well there, particularly on Fridays. Such practices, already customary by the 11th century, made al-Gazali conclude, with a common sense

so typical of him, that in principle the mosque should be used neither as a thor

oughfare nor as a place where utensils, foodstuffs or books were being sold. If,

however, those things caused no obstruction, and took place infrequently, they were permitted.49

Ibn al-Tmad al-AqfahsI, a 14th-century Egyptian authority on Islamic "table"

etiquette presented an even more precise opinion. According to him, one was

allowed to go out of the mosque if he was hungry and wanted to eat. The author's further explanation confirms that leaving the mosque in such a case was not obligatory and that a person can, but does not have to do it: "one can

eat in the mosque as long as he does not mess up and does not eat garlic or

onions or any other things that have a hateful smell; if, however, these things were cooked, they are not hateful any more."50 Though the post-al-Gazali

47 Quoted by al-Maqrizi, Hitat, I, p. 341; cf. also Regis Blachere, "L'agglomeration

du Caire vue par quatre voyageurs arabes du Moyen Age," Annates Islamologiques, VIII

(1969): 20. 48 Cf. Ahsan, Social Life, pp. 151-152. 49

Al-Gazali, "Al-Amr bi-l-MaDruf wa-n-Nahyi can al-Munkar," in al-Gazali, Ihya' cUlum

ad-Din, pp. 1186-1275; Engl, transl. in R. P. Buckley, The Book of the Islamic Market

Inspector, pp. 172-176. 50 Ibn al-Tmad al-Aqfahsi (750-808/1349-1406), Sarh Manbumat dddb al-Akl wa-as-surb

wa-ad-diydfa, pp. 80, 103. Cf. the Prophet's widely known distaste of garlic and onion.



authors of the hisba manuals recommend that the doors should be closed after

every prayer to keep the mosques free of those who ate food, slept, practiced a

trade or sold goods in them,51 the custom remained?the need for a friendly

meeting-place for the local community, for an establishment where the neigh bors' social life could blossom, where one could make an appointment, sit

with friends, talk, discuss and have some refreshments, must have been quite


The mosque, however, though willingly visited, well-known and safe, was

not a perfect spot for the neighbors' club, because some activities?like occu

pying oneself with trivial, frivolous or base talk ("idle and Alehouse talke" as

one Western traveler called it)53?were not the right things to do in the temple. No wonder then that the success of the cafeteria, an institution that from the

beginnings of the 16th century began to revolutionize Cairo's social life,54 was

so stunning. The advent of the coffeehouse is important here for two reasons: it

is significant in the context of hospitality, and it is meaningful for explanation of certain phenomena within gastronomic culture. With coffee-drinking becom

ing a favorite public pastime, a coffeehouse soon replaced (or at least paralleled) the mosque as a center of social life. The role it came to play in Cairo resem

bled, in a sense, that of the tavern in the cities of Europe. The nature of the

beverages and their effects upon a human being were naturally different, but

the ends for which people gathered in the two establishments remained similar.

The conversation flourished in coffeehouses, and with time there appeared

water-pipes, gaming, entertainers, performers and, occasionally, drugs. Men shared their thoughts and had a good time, spending hours on the premises.

The introduction of coffee and coffeehouses changed people's lives in many

ways. Beside providing a pretext to regularly go out for reasons other than reli

51 cAbd ar-Rahman Nasr as-Sayzarl (XII century), Kitdb Nihdyat ar-Rutba fl Talab al

Hisba, pp. 110-111; Ibn Bassam al-Muhtasib (before mid-XV century), Nihdyat ar-Rutba fl Talab al-Hisba, p. 175.

52 Cf. S. D. Goitein's comments on the mosque as a meeting place of the community in: A Mediterranean Society, IV: Daily Life, pp. 31-33.

53 Hattox, Coffee, p. 100.

54 Coffee was introduced to Cairo in the first decade of the 16th century in the Yemeni

quarters of the al-Azhar theological complex. Soon it started to be sold in the streets imme

diately around the mosque, and was drunk openly, not only in the precincts of al-Azhar, but in much of the rest of Cairo. While it remained one of the props of the nocturnal devotional services of the Sufis, others, perhaps less spiritually inclined, found it a pleasant stimulus to

mingle. See a detailed study by Hattox, Coffee, pp. 27-28. For the design of an early-19th century coffee shop interior in Cairo see very interesting description in Description de

TEgypte, 1. Etat moderne, XVIII /l/, pp. 158-159. One can hardly avoid comparing the

premises' arrangement to that of the rooms where the qdt "chewing sessions" are held in

today's Yemen.



gion or business, it also brought about a shift in the host-guest relationship and

the appearance of what Ralph Hattox called "substitute hospitality." From now

on a host did not have to be surrounded by his possessions, by all the symbols of proprietorship that always had to be present when one welcomed his guest in his house or his shop. It is also true that the act of hospitality could now be

transferred to a public place where one's position and responsibility as host was

limited. The change was significant, for never before had invitation and con

sumption concerned a public place.55 But, strangely enough, this change did not

affect food.

Food was not (i.e. until recently) introduced to the coffeehouse to accompany,

precede or follow the drink, and for at least four centuries no eating establish

ment was patterned after the coffeehouse. What makes it even stranger is that

in the mosque, where people used to gather for social ends before the coffee

house appeared, eating was habitually practiced. Thus the mosque appears to

have been the only place (if we disregard the case of sweet-sellers' shops, where the 16th-century Egyptian cavalrymen used to sit for hours)56 where one

could buy food?albeit only sweets and nuts?and eat it in situ.57 And here two

questions arise. First, why did the Cairenes, while transferring their social cen

ter from the mosque to the coffeehouse, not take their snacks with them? The

other question, more general though equally intriguing, is whether it had any

thing in common with the absence of restaurants in the city, or whether it was

an incidental episode, unrelated to any broader circumstances?

The search for answers may start with what concluded the earlier reflections on hospitality and the private domain?that is, with the assertion that Arab

Islamic hospitality could, traditionally, work only on the host's, or private, ter

ritory and that going to an alien place in order to share one's food with one's

guest did not make sense. With this in mind, we can formulate a hypothesis that the mosque, friendly and intimate, well-known since one's childhood, was

perceived?contrary to the coffeehouse that constituted somebody's property? as private territory that belonged to the whole neighborhood. Eating here was

as natural as praying, learning, thinking, discussing everyday affairs, taking a

rest, sleeping or watching children play. After all, the mosque that stood on

Muhammad's lot in Medina was, besides its religious and state functions, also

55 Ibid., pp. 98-100. To be clear, to have a cup of coffee, one did not have to go to the

coffeehouse or coffee shop. Equally popular, particularly in the commercial areas, was order

ing a coffee from a nearby stall and having it brought by an attendant?exactly as it was

done with the dishes form the street cooks' shops; see ibid., pp. 79-80. 56

Mustafa lAll's Description, p. 55. 57

Apart, of course, from the above-discussed cooks' shops for the poor.



a scene where the daily life of the community and of the Prophet himself went on and where people conducted themselves as they pleased. Eating in the

mosque was, then, perceived as eating on one's own (or, in this case, the com

munity's) territory; it was not much different from consuming food on one's

patio, on the roof of a relative's home, or in the neighbor's shop. The rules of hospitality and territoriality, as well as the absence in Egypt of

the Mesopotamian-like tradition of drinking out in commercial establishments,

surely contribute to understanding the question of why there were no eating premises in Cairo. But they still do not provide a full and satisfying explanation of this

problem. There is, however, one more clue that could be of crucial importance for the present study. It is a Prophetic Tradition that clearly disallows eating in

the street: "To eat in the market is ignoble," the Prophet was to have said.58

This tradition, uncertain as it is,59 was apparently not unknown in Cairo: it is

quoted by both Ibn al-Tmad al-Aqfahsi and Sihab ad-DIn al-lbslhl (both 14th

15th centuries), the two Egyptian authors who dealt with manners relating to

eating. Al-Gazali, who commented on the subject while in 11th-century Iraq, mentions two points of view regarding eating in the market: on the one hand, such behavior may be "a mark of humility and an abandonment of affectation

in some people, in which case it is good;" on the other, it is "a violation of

good manners in others in which case it is reprehensible." Al-Aqfahsi supported the latter view and was univocal in his comments: "It is hateful to eat in the

market," he says and adds: "And some said: 'it is forbidden.'" But he also

quotes another opinion: "And some also said: Tf he was a witness in a legal case, then it is forbidden for him; and if he was not, than it is not forbidden. And this is because if he gives testimony, and then eats in the market, he

degrades and discredits himself. His testimony would not be accepted and the one who called him as witness would lose the evidence.' "60 Which means that

58 While commenting on eating in the market, al-Gazali also quotes a Tradition he con

siders contrary to the one quoted above: the tradition, transmitted on the authority of Ibn

cUmar, reads: "At the time of the Emissary of God we used to eat while walking and drink while standing up." In fact the two traditions are not contradictory?eating while walking does not necessarily mean eating in the market?and vice versa. See Al-Ghazdli on the

Manners, p. 47. 59 Its isndd was considered "garibT see loc. cit. 60

Al-Aqfahsi, Sarh, pp. 78-80; Sihab ad-Din al-Ibsihl al-Mahalli, Al-Mustatraf fi Kull Fann: Mustazraf, p. 179. As for al-Ghazall, he considered eating in the market a violation of good manners. He also adds: "it differs according to the customs of the country and to the circumstances of people. Therefore, he who claims that it does not conform to the rest of his

actions, associates with a lack of good manners and excessive greed, and so openly censures

it. He who finds that abandoning affectation conforms to all his circumstances and actions, takes it as a sign of humility." See Al-Ghazdli on the Manners, pp. 47-48.



even if there were authorities who regarded eating in the market permissible for some, they nevertheless had no doubts as to ignominious aspects of such

behavior and the dishonor it brought about.

The above comment, as quoted by al-Aqfahsi, probably reflected the general attitude towards the practice in question, which was not only an echo of the

Prophet's opinion but also of a certain attitude shared in the environment he

lived in (and maybe by the Arab populations at other times and other locations). Moreover, S.D. Goitein's remarks regarding the absence of Jewish taverns in

the Geniza documents show that it was not exclusively the Arabs' attitude: "I

ascribe this not only to consideration for the Muslim environment but to the

belief that the consumption of food in public was undignified; one enjoyed eat

ing and drinking with friends, but not in any place accessible just to anyone."61 The general persistence of negative attitude towards eating in the street could

be essential for answering a number of questions concerning the absence of

eating-houses in the city. It could explain, for instance, why it was exclusively the poorest or the lowest who ate in the streets of medieval Cairo and why the

respectable persons did not do it.62 It could also address the question of why there was no food in the coffee-houses.63 This attitude, transmitted from gener ation to generation, must have influenced the perception of the Muslims so

strongly that it led to the creation of a deeply-rooted habit. The habit became so strongly consolidated that it made the populations of the urban centers of the

Islamic world?Cairo included?uninterested in the commercial eating estab

lishments.64 These, naturally enough, would have been located in the shopping

61 S. D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, V: The Individual, p. 40. 62 This context sheds also some new light on Mustafa cAll's account and allows us to

understand properly his disgust towards the way the Egyptian cavalrymen (jundis) behaved in the capital city. The Turkish historian's relation (very end of the 16th century) reads:

"Year after year they all come to Cairo (.. .) and completely fill the streets with their shame

less behavior. They eat and drink, go around bragging, uttering foul language (. ..). However, those among them that are valiant and men of honor never eat and drink together with them

(...);" Mustafa cAll's Description, p. 55. 63 One should keep in mind that the Sunna did not disallow drinking in the street. There

is, however, no precise recommendation of the proper posture of the drinking person. There

are traditions that recommend standing while drinking (Ibn al-Hagg, Al-Madhal ila Tanmiyat al-A'mdl bi-Tahsin an-Niyya, I, p. 230) and there are those that forbid it (al-Aqfahsi, Sarh,

p. 80). 64

It is difficult to define precisely when exactly the street kitchens started to transform

into eating-places. The Bonaparte's scholars, who scrutinized and described early-19th cen

tury Egypt, did not report any example of this kind of premises in their monumental publi cation. The only allusion to eating in the street referred to the Cairenes who consumed var

ious sweets on Ramadan nights (Description, XVIII HI, p. 443). A Polish traveler who

visited Cairo in the 1860s mentions that "in the cooks' shops food was distributed in wooden


streets. And to eat there was a contemptible thing. The servant in "The Story of Wazlr Nur ad-Din and His Brother Sams ad-DIn," who took the wazlr's son

to a Damascene cook's shop, did not receive a beating without reason.

* * *

The issue of hospitality may be significant for understanding another phe nomenon so characteristic of the gastronomic culture of medieval Islam?Cairo

included. Namely, the absence of an inn, another food-serving establishment

erroneously brought to life in the secondary literature. The inn we know, an

establishment providing both lodging and food for travelers, did not exist in the

medieval Islamic world. Generally, the travelers passing by the region stayed in

caravanserais or khans that were the local form of a hostel (or, to use a more

contemporary term, a motel) but that can, however, by no means be considered an equivalent to the inn; the dissimilarities between the institutions are too mis

cellaneous and too many.65 One of the most important of those dissimilarities is

relevant to the present study?namely the fact that the caravanserais, contrary to the European inns, did not serve food to their guests.

A relatively easy way was offered to the Western travelers or merchants who

decided to spend some time in Alexandria: they could stay?if not invited to

any private residence?in one of the Venetian, Genoese or other Western fon dachi, whose owners could also serve food and drink to their customers.66 In

bowls" (Henryk Bartsch, Wspomnienia z podrozy do Kairu i Jerozolimy w roku 1861, p. 162), but this does not clarify if by that time anything besides the bowls themselves had changed (al-Maqrizi spoke of earthenware bowls) in these establishments since the Middle Ages. Considering Lane's observations made over 20 years earlier, we may presume it had not: most probably, it was still exclusively the poor who used these bowls to eat in situ. Some 80 years later, however, the transformation was already over, though the food served in the establishment that in the 1940s was located somewhere on the edge of Han al-Halili was still

very cheap and of mediocre quality. The place possessed one tiny room and a number of tables in the street. It was frequented mostly by the students of al-Azhar. There were also other places in the old quarters but, unlike the above establishment, they specialized in one

dish only, just like the harisa-makers' shops of medieval al-Wasit. Moreover, their shape also resembled the Iraqi premises: they consisted of "little rooms, rather dirty, tightly crammed with tables, narrow wooden staircase to climb the similar little rooms upstairs. The place [famous for its kebab] was permanently busy;" see Witold Rajkowski, Nad Nilem bije serce

Wschodu. Wrazenia i obrazki z zycia w Kairze, pp. 27, 40. Today in Cairo one can still eat

his kosari in this kind of "restaurant." 65

The terms "caravanserai" and "khan" are used in the present study regardless of the dif ferences between various types of Islamic hostels. For characteristics of hdn, funduq, wikdla,

qaysdriyya etc. see, e.g., Raymond and Wiet, Marches, passim; Robert Hillenbrand, Islamic Architecture. Form, Function and Meaning, pp. 331-376 or respective entries in the

Encyclopedia of Islam. 66

Some of the European fondachi in Alexandria served food and drink to their European customers. Venetians in whose fondaco von Harff had stayed served him food and drink for



Cairo there were no comparable institutions, and foreign visitors to this city had

to rent private houses or apartments. Their hosts were usually hospitable and

either shared their meals with the travelers or provided them with food. This was the case of, for example, a Florentine ambassador to Sultan Barsbay, Felice

Brancacci, who during his sojourn in Cairo in 1422 stayed at the house of one

Christian of Candia. He reports himself and the rest of the embassy negotiating with an important official, then leaving him, and "going back home to have

their meals."67 This was the case, too, of an anonymous pilgrim who visited the

city between 1419 and 1425 on his way from Jerusalem, who also reports hav

ing his meal at a place where he stayed for the night. This time it was a "hos

tel" of a certain Genoese merchant who treated him and his fellow pilgrims "with fruits, meats, and good wines."68 Also Pero Tafur, who in the mid-XV

century stayed in Cairo as an ambassador of the King of Cyprus to the Sultan,

appreciated very much the hospitality of the Sultan's interpreter, by whom he was received "graciously as if he had been his son, and his children were so

fond of him."69 A Flemish traveler Joos van Ghistele, while in Cairo in 1483,

stayed at the house of a Flemish merchant who resided in the city.70 Those who had nobody to invite them for lunch or dinner had to help them

selves and "go out into the streets and buy what was needed for food and buy water from the Nile to drink," like Arnold von Harff did during his stay in the

head dragoman's house in Cairo (whose rooms "were holes like pig-sties and

nothing inside but bare earth." Von Harff's dislike appears somewhat surprising if one remembers Erasmus of Rotterdam's horrifying description, dating back to

more less the same time, of a room in a German inn).71 Pero Tafur also expe rienced food-buying in the street when he was on the way to the Sultan's resi

dence but, contrary to von Harff, he did not complain; he even sounds like he

a ducat a week (Pilgrimage, p. 95); cf. also a passage from Breydenbach in: Andre

Raymond, Gaston Wiet, Les Marches du Caire. Traduction annotee du texte de Maqrizi, pp. 4-5. For detailed description of the European fondachi ("fondigoes") in Alexandria see: van

Ghistele, Voyage, pp. 113-114. Also Eliyahu Ashtor, Levantine Trade in the Later Middle

Ages, pp. 407-408, 410. See also Wojciech Mruk, Pielgrzymowanie do Ziemi Swietej w

drugiej potowie XIV wieku, p. 112. 67

Dopp, "Le Caire", pt. II, Bulletin de la Societe Roy ale de Geographic d'Egypte, XXIV

(1951), pp. 124-5. The same day they were given a gift of an enormous mutton, a cage full

of pullets, eight geese, another fifty hens, two "pains de sucre" and four boxes of local sweets. One wonders if and how the travelers made meals of all this livestock.

68 Ibid., p. 118. also von Harff, Pilgrimage, p. 102, n. 1.

69 Tafur, Travels, p. 72.

70 Van Ghistele, Voyage, p. 16. In Damietta, the traveler lodged at the house of one of the

Italian merchants who came with him from Cairo (p. 107). 71

Von Harff, Pilgrimage, p. 102. for Erasmus's description see Norbert Elias, The History

of Manners. The Civilizing Process, I, p. 72.



was content that he and his companions were "able to eat and drink by the way, for men go about carrying portable stoves with ready cooked food, others sell

fruit, others water (.. .)."72

Indeed, the travelers who in medieval Europe usually availed themselves of

the cooking services of inns during their journeys could not count on any gen erous premises of this kind in Cairo. But neither could Moslem travelers who

stayed in the caravanserais for the night. Actually, Sheherazade's story is some

what misleading as far as this point is concerned. It is in fact not surprising that

the young Baghdadi merchant, who in "The Christian Broker's Tale" hires an

apartment in the Khan of Masrur,73 sends a servant to bring him some food, then drinks a cup of wine for lunch, gets camel's meat and sweets every day, and has his dinner delivered to him. This was the way one behaved. But it

sounds somewhat incredible when he also tells how he made a roasted lamb and

took some sweets for his lover (to send them to her place) or that he prepared a dinner for her (also to send away). Though this creates an impression like he was cooking the food by himself, it should not be understood this way. The

apartments in Cairo khans or caravanserais were not equipped with cooking facilities and there was no way to prepare anything warm by oneself, particu

larly since the operation of roasting the lamb was very demanding and could be

carried out only in special ovens of the tannur-type that were located in the

street. Not to mention the fact that a rich mercer, as the one from Baghdad was, would rather not cook at all. Both the meals he ate as well as those he sent to

his lover could, like other delicacies he "prepared" (i.e. wine, sweets, or dried

fruits), have only been brought from the nearby bazaar.

What is particularly interesting is that an observation by a medieval author

that "because they [i.e. Cairenes] have no inns, strangers are obliged to eat

wherever they happen to be,"74 was still valid in the mid-18th century, when

Richard Pococke, bishop of Mearth, made a remark that in the "okelas," (i.e. "wiklas" or type of caravanserai) strangers "are accommodated with a room at a very small price, but with nothing else; so that excepting the room, there are

no greater accommodations in these houses than there are in the deserts, unless

from the conveniency of a market near."75 Also for Savary, Pococke's French

contemporary, feeding himself was a serious undertaking: in his Lettres sur

72 Tafur, Travels, p. 73.

73 One of the most famous caravanserais of medieval Cairo. 74

Quoted without naming the source in: Gaston Wiet, Cairo, City of Art and Commerce,

p. 95. 75 Richard Pococke, A Description of the East, and Some Other Countries, I. Observations

on Egypt, p. 37.


VEgypte he noted that "in this country there is no possibility of dining for

money at all."76 For some reason, Savary somehow managed to miss, or failed to use the services of, Cairo's street kitchens. In fact, most of the visitors to the

Egyptian capital would not even care to understand Savary's discomfort: it was

so easy to simply buy and eat something in the bazaar, as did Pero Tafur and, not so gladly, von Harff. Or, while staying in the caravanserai, to pay a menial to bring warm food from the street, as did the young Baghdadi merchant who in "The Christian Broker's Tale" ate his meals at Han Masrur, where he stayed for some time. Unlike Parisian inns, the food in the local streets was not nec

essarily bad and, unlike in Paris traiteurs' shops, one could buy meals in por tions, could choose between various dishes, qualities and prices, could take the

dish out, order home delivery and have it cooked with his own products. Con

sidering the existence of a highly developed network of bazaar gastronomy, one

should not wonder why nobody in Cairo entertained the idea of opening a food

serving inn. Are there, however, other factors explaining the fact that Cairene caravanserais never provided food for their guests?

As late as in the end of the 19th century the author of the Smith's Bible Dictionary could still maintain that "inns, in our sense of the term, were, and still are, unknown in the East, where hospitality is religiously practiced."77 Indeed, hos

pitality, considered by both the Jews and the Arabs to be a virtue, seems to be an important motive behind the fact that "inns," like the one in whose stable

Jesus was born, were sparse in ancient Palestine. The most popular way to

spend the night away from home?if it was too cold to sleep under the open

sky, covered just by one's woolen coat?was to ask others for an invitation.78 The guest was always welcomed, and could be more than sure that his host would serve him with whatever he had in his pantry. Goitein's observations

76 Savary, Lettres sur TEgypte, Paris 1798, I, p. 106, quoted in Raymond and Wiet,

Marches, p. 18. 77 W. Smith, Smith's Bible Dictionary, entry "Inn." Moreover, in the 1960s Zette

Guinaudeau-Franc could still write that "II n'y a pas de bons hotels, de grands restaurants en

Medina de Fes. L'hospitalite de ses habitants s'etend a l'etranger, relation, parent (. . .)." (Fes vu par sa cuisine, p. 179).

78 Daniel-Rops, Zycie w Palestynie, p. 236. It seems, however, that it was generally con

sidered improper for a guest to stay longer than three days. Cf. the words of the Fatimid leg islator al-Qadi an-Nu5man who maintains that "the limit of entertaining a guest is three days; for, beyond that is charity," in: Da'd'im al-Isldm, II, p. 104 (English quotation by Asaf A. A.

Fyzee, Compendium of Fatimid Law, p. 129); Barhebraeus, a 13th-century Syrian catholicos, was of the same opinion. In his Ethicon he recommends that the host should propose lodg

ings for the night to those of the guests who came from afar. The guest, however, should not

stay longer than three days; Al-Atdqln. Falsafat al-Addb al-Hulqiyya, Qamishli: Matba'at at

a-abib 1967, p. 185. See also Michael Abdalla, "Wskazowki kulinarne Bar Ebraji, syryjskiego katolikosa z XIII w.", Przeglad Orientalistyczny, nr. 3-4 (1990): 223.



regarding the hospitality of the Jewish community of al-Fustat confirm the endurance

of the ancient attitude: "It was religiously motivated and was extended mainly to needy people and strangers, or to others who had a claim to help (...) where

the motive of reciprocity was also present. 'Putting up the wayfarer' was among the religious merits (...); this was intrinsically a deed of piety for which no

reward should be expected, although the reward was likely."79 This hospitable way towards guests only partly explains, however, why the

ancient Palestinian "inn" did not offer much apart from a yard surrounded by four walls and (though not always) a roof, while in ancient Greece, where many travelers also relied on the hospitality of friends, one could use the services of

the innkeepers (though these were generally held in low repute and probably resembled, in this respect, the owners of the Roman tabernae).so It does not seem to explain satisfactorily, however, why these facilities for travelers never

developed?unlike in Europe?in the post-classical Near East. In medieval

Europe, too, hospitality was regarded as duty and was rarely denied at the monastery, castle or country house. But the growing number of pilgrims and other travel ers led to the appearance of an institution of an "inn," which occurred in the

14th century. A similar process was taking place in China at that time: from the mid-Ming

times (ca. 1500) onward, the increased volume of travel among some groups of

Chinese society led to the emergence and expansion of a new kind of estab

lishment to serve their needs, the hui-kuan, or hostelry for travelers from the same province or prefecture. The hui-kuan had a staff of employees from the home locality, including cooks, so that "the Su-chou merchant or statesman

residing temporarily at the Su-chou hui-kuan in Peking (. . .) could expect to

hear his Su-chou speech and to eat his fine Su-chou soup noodles and pastries for breakfast."81 What seems to be particularly striking is that the story of the

Su-chou man residing temporarily at the Su-chou hui-kuan in Peking corre

sponds to those of the Maghribi, Turkish, Persian, Yemeni and other merchants

who lodged in Cairo at the caravanserais reserved exclusively for their own

countrymen.82 Contrary, however, to the hui-kuan customers, foreign cara

vanserai guests in Cairo apparently could not enjoy the indoor service of a cook

preparing their favorite home specialties. For these they had to go out to the

bazaar kitchens, some of whose owners were likely to be their compatriots who

had migrated to Egypt.

79 Goitein, The Individual, pp. 28-29.

80 So that "a self-respecting traveler preferred to rely on the hospitality of friends rather

than on the innkeepers;" see entry "Inn and innkeepers," Encyclopedia Britannica, op. cit. 81

Mote, "Yiian and Ming," pp. 244, 245, 247. 82

Raymond and Wiet, Marches, pp. 5, 17-18.



Why did a process similar to that of the establishment of an inn in Europe, or the emergence of the hui-kuan in China, never take place in medieval Cairo, a metropolis frequented by countless travelers, merchants, pilgrims and embassies? Why did the Cairo khans and wikalas never decide to serve meals

(not to mention provincial specialties) to their guests and choose to remain noth

ing more than "a lodging place for the night?" There is apparently no simple

explanation of this phenomenon, and the problem concerned not only the

Egyptian capital, but the Arabic-Islamic world in general, including the desert

"highway" khans.83 What may prove helpful for the present investigation is to

recall some features of the inn and set them against those of the caravanserai.

An inn, that is, a small pub or hotel providing both food and accommodation,

appeared in Europe as the result of the tavern's transformation. And the

European taverns of antiquity84 as well as those of the Middle Ages were not

establishments designed to satisfy the noblemen's culinary needs. A tavern, usu

ally located by a city market place, was the favorite recreation place and nat

ural social center of the entire neighborhood. The food constituted just one of the services offered here?the institution was more popular for its alcoholic bev

erages, immoral women, hazardous games, music and dances, jugglers and actors.85 The same concerned the inn, an institution that, having just added guest rooms and shelter for animals to its edifice, naturally inherited all the benefits

of the tavern's inventory and successfully continued its traditions.86

It was, then, neither the "generally bad" food nor the accommodation for the

night that were the sole elements attracting customers to inns on the daily basis.

Though the food, nevertheless, was doubtless an indispensable component of the

83 For a good historical description of such a khan see, e.g., Van Ghistele's note on Han Yunis in Palestine, "une belle et bonne auberge a la maniere du pays;" Voyage, pp. 4-5.

84 Stephen L. Dyson, Society in Roman Italy, p. 175; Frank Rainer Scheck, Szlak mirry i

kadzidla, p. 15. 85 Frances and Joseph Gies, Daily Life in Medieval Times. A Vivid, Detailed Account of

Birth, Marriage and Death; Food, Clothing, and Housing; Love and Labor in the Middle

Ages, pp. 272, 339, 341. 86 For the reason of morality, but of their safety as well, it was suggested that clergy, pil

grims and pious persons avoid staying in the inns for the night, and choose a monastery or

a hospice instead. The attractions, however, proved stronger than the warnings and the inns

prospered, frequented by various orders of society. It was, in fact, only the pilgrims and the

poor travelers who generally chose to rely on the hospitality of the church. On the taverns,

inns, hospices and the role they played in the medieval society see, e.g., Gies, Daily Life,

p. 272; Janina Gilewska-Dubis, Zycie codzienne mieszczan wroclawskich w dobie srednio

wiecza, pp. 167-172; Mruk, Pielgrzymowanie, pp. 85-86; Norbert Ohler, Zycie pielgrzymow w sredniowieczu. Miedzy modlitwq a przygodq, pp. 158-169, 171-176, 200-211; Henryk Samsonowicz, Zycie miasta sredniowiecznego, pp. 35-36; Janusz Tandecki, Struktury admi

nistracyjne i spoleczne oraz formy zycia w wielkich miastach Prus Krzyzackich i Krolewskich w sredniowieczu i na progu czasow nowozytnych, pp. 171-172.


inn's services, it was the other attractions that appear to have been the key fac tors behind the function and prosperity of the establishments in question.

Drinking and prostitution?and maybe danger as well?seem also to have been

tightly connected with the activity of Chinese "restaurants" and "inns" of this

and later periods.87 Judging by the example of medieval Europe and China,

serving food in inns seems to have been profitable only when accompanied by entertainment; in principle, of the cruder variety. In other words, if the hostel owner was to earn a living, simple food and accommodation would not

suffice?he had to provide at least women and alcohol as well.

It so happens, however, that these were most unwelcome in the Islamic com

munity. Muslims were not allowed to engage in any business of this kind at all, and whoever else happened to offer such services in the domain of Islam could not count on anybody's respect. This of course does not mean that these vices were inaccessible in Cairo: there was drinking of wine, there were prostitutes, there was gambling,88 and, during private parties, there were music and singers. But the population's need and the authorities' permission for this kind of pas time, and the professions relating to it, were very much limited.

Besides, the Cairene caravanserais, contrary to features that constituted the

raison d'etre of the inns, and of at least some of the hui-kuans, were not

designed to provide popular recreation and amusement to their customers.89

Their beginnings are tightly connected to the simple caravan halting stations

that were just a slightly improved version of a desert camp. Their goals were

not to entertain, but to secure water and a more or less safe piece of ground, where the loads could be taken down from the beasts' backs for the night and, sometimes, sold or exchanged for other merchandise. The caravanserai's char

acter was quite different than that of an inn. Moreover, the former, as an insti tution meant for the Muslims' welfare, safety and business, was usually either founded by charity money, or sponsoring pious foundations and thus closely bound to the religious waqf institution, a fact that further made it impossible to

introduce "low" forms of amusement onto their premises.

Enjoying sinful practices was out of the question in the caravanserai; and

thus a vital part of the income of European innkeepers was out of reach for the

87 Mote, "Yuan and Ming," in Chang, Food, p. 247; Jonathan Spence, "Ch'ing," in ibid.,

p. 289. 88 For kinds of games practiced in medieval Egypt and the Islamic world in general, see

Franz Rosenthal, Gambling in Islam, especially pp. 9-66. 89 Which is particularly significant when juxtaposed with China, a country where people

traveled for pleasure since early Middle Ages and where, after XV century, tourism became "a new form of ostentatious consumption." See Mote, "Yuan and Ming", in Chang, Food,

p. 245.


caravanserai owner. The obvious conclusion coming out of this parallel could

be, then, that since the main reasons for the prosperity of the inn could not

work in Cairo (legally and openly at least), the absence of a similar institution in this city is fully justified. At the same time, combining accommodation with

nourishment service did not seem to be reasonable or profitable business?con

sidering hundreds of cooks' stands just around corner, the caravanserai's kitchen

would have no chance to compete. In fact, the only institutions of the medieval

Near East that in some cases offered food to travelers in addition to accommo

dation for the night were the Islamic religious "convents" like zdwiyyas and

hanqas.90 Their hospitality, like that offered by mystics of religious institutions

based on the idea of charity and pious life, should, however, be compared to

that of the European monasteries rather than to that of inns. Feeding a passer

by, and particularly a pilgrim, was an act welcomed by God and rewarded with

blessings. So people did it?and not only the mystics of the "convents," but

ordinary people, too?if they only had a chance.91 But in both cases their doings were acts of voluntary food-sharing or helping someone who, for some reason, was left with no provisions. Manifestly enough, this kind of activity remains

quite unlike the service of hotels' kitchens.

The Europeans usually missed their inns and lamented the situation.92 It

90 Cf., for example, the zawiyyas of Asia Minor, Isfahan, or as-Sln where Ibn Battuta was

given meals: Ibn Battuta, Rihlat Ibn Battuta, II, pp. 31, 24, 171, 175; IV, p. 146; see also

Raymond, Marches, pp. 14-15. One can hardly escape comparing the "food service" offered

by the mystics of the zawiyyas to the "rifada" service performed in pre-Islamic Mecca by Banu Qurays, who as a tribe were responsible for providing the pilgrims with food and raisins bought for the money they managed to collect.

91 Edward Lane's observations made in 19th-century Cairo confirm that the attitude of his

contemporaries towards hospitality was very much the same: "when a person is paying a visit to a friend, and the hour of the dinner or supper arrives, it is incumbent for [sic] the mas

ter of the house to order the meal to be brought and the same is generally considered nec

essary if the visitor is a stranger." Manners, p. 148. 92 But some did not complain. Ludolph von Suchem, who in the mid-14th century trav

eled from the Holy Land to Egypt, noted that "In this desert there is no lack of anything needful save only water (.. .). Good Saracen inns may be found at the end of each day's

journey, and all that one needs except wine (. ..)." In fact a travel account by Ludolph von

Suchem seems to be the only historical source that signals the existence of food services in

the caravanserais of the Near East. Considering the author's questionable reliability, however, his words should not be taken too seriously (Ludolph von Suchem, Ludolph von Suchem's

Description of the Holy Land and the Way Thither (Written in the Year A.D. 1350), p. 66. From A. Raymond and G. Wiet's discussion on various forms of commercial establishments in Cairo and in the Islamic world in general, it comes out that those few "hostels" that pro vided food to their guests in this part of the world were located East of Iraq, in Persia, where

Pascal Coste (XIX century) was able to pay the "concierge" for the provision or in the region of as-Sugd, East of Bukhara, where the X-century Muslim geographer, al-Istahri, could find

forage for his animals and food for himself.



seems meaningful and odd that the Arab traveler never complained about the

lack of food-service and never expected it?be it in the desert khan or in the

big city caravanserai. Was it only because he realized that if one traveled with a caravan, which was usually the case, no khan's kitchen could ever manage to

serve a company that large? And that no halting station in the middle of

nowhere would be able to provide much more than some walls and a well, and

particularly that many such establishments did not even have a guardian? It so

happens that most of the social practices followed by the populations of the

Arabic-Islamic world can usually be traced in the Prophetic Traditions, many of

which reflect the ancient customs of the Arabs. The hadit that may throw some

light on this particular question is so well-phrased it could in fact be hung over

every caravanserai's gate. "When a guest arrives, he brings his own provisions with him," the Prophet reportedly said.93 The Tradition, mentioned by none of

the Sunni authorities, was quoted by the famous Fatimid legislator al-Qadi an

Nu'man in his Da'd'im al-Isldm. Of course, one should not ignore the fact that

an-Nu3man's Da'dcim, one of the most important legal sources of the Isma'ilis?

its prestige among them can be compared to that of al-Buhari's Sahih among the Sunnites?was, like all the philosophy of the Fatimid dynasty, of little inter

est to the Egyptians themselves. But it is neither for the accuracy of its isndd, nor for the influence of the Isma'ili faith on the population of medieval Egypt, that this Tradition proves significant for the present study.

The hadit, quoted here as an indication of certain habits that were possibly

practiced by the Arabs, not only suggests that every traveler was supposed to

always carry his own food with him,94 and to care for having the provisions "refilled" if he ran short of anything, but also confirms he could not expect that

in the place he halted he would find anything more than some water?if the

93 "But when he departs, he goes with the sins of his hosts (which are pardoned);" al-Qadi an-Nu5man, Da>acim, II, p. 104 (English transl. by Fyzee, Compendium, p. 129).

94 Cf. also Ahmad b. Muhammad ?Abd ar-Rahman ibn Qudama al-MuqaddasI (d. 742/

1341), Muhtasar Minhdg al-Qddiyyln, where in the chapter on traveler manners the author

maintains that the traveler should take the provisions (both food and drink) along on a jour ney and adds: "And he [i.e. the traveler] should not say at his departure: 'I am full so I will

take no provisions with me,' for it is ignorance." (p. 118; the work is an abridgement of al

Gazali's Ihyd3 cUlum ad-Dln). Al-Gazali himself is more precise. His point is that by leav

ing for a journey without provisions the traveler may, in certain circumstances, cause his own

death, which makes such a behavior sinful. "Leaving without provisions is not a problem if one travels with a caravan or between the villages that are close to each other. If, however, one goes to the desert with people who have no food with them nor drink, and if, moreover, he is not patient enough to stand hunger for a week or ten days, and is not strong enough to content himself with the grass, then leaving without provisions is a sin." (Ihya> cUlum ad

Dln, pt. VI, "Kitab Adab as-Safar," p. 1101).



well was not covered by the moving sands. The rationale behind this hadit

becomes even more clear when we quote another, this time a canonical Sunni one: "Gather together over your food and you will be blessed in it."95 The

Prophet's ordinance applied to everybody, but in reference to travelers it

implied more than in the case of settled persons: like the previously-quoted Tradition, it taught, though in a different context, that a traveler should carry his food with

him. The message was explicit: this was to be done not only because the pro visions would make it possible for the man to survive; this was more than obvi ous. He had to do it because the meals were supposed to be shared with the

traveling companions. What is more, if the provisions happened to be

exhausted, people were to collect money and fresh supplies were to be bought for the group. Collecting money in order to buy common food was not an ordi

nary social practice, nor was it a custom like many other ones. It involved act

ing according to the words of the Revelation: "Let one of you go to the city with your silver coin and see whose food is the purest and bring you provisions from him."96 Again, this concerned both the settled population and those on the

way. As for the latter, however, it was particularly recommended, because

behaving in this manner allowed the traveling group to avail themselves of car

rying and safekeeping common provisions. The main blessing that resulted from

such behavior was to avoid a situation that in the unpredictable desert could cause a fight or even murder: it assured that the meals were the same for every one and that nobody would starve while another would eat his fill.97

Although moving with an ancient caravan through the sea of sand seems too

distant from the circumstances of the metropolitan caravanserais of medieval

Cairo, it in fact was not so. From the social point of view, the changes were

not so significant, and the differences not so many. In the Middle Ages, as in antiquity, nobody traveled alone and if a lonely pilgrim or merchant who

wanted to cross the desert somehow happened to be there, he always had to join a group?the bigger the caravan, the safer the journey was supposed to be. For

the reasons mentioned above, the groups crossing the desert land had to carry bread, dates, flour or cheese with them, and this equally concerned pre-Islamic Arab nomads, Roman soldiers, Muslim merchants, and medieval Europeans headed for the Christian sanctuaries. Though the latter were not mindful of

Islamic ordinances, they, too, bought common food in the markets, since their

Arab guides told them to do so.

95 Sunan Abi Dawud, "Al-Afima": 3272; Ibn Magah, "Al-At'ima": 3277; Musnad Ahmad, "Musnad al-Makkiyyin": 15498. English tansl. In: Al-Ghazdll on the Manners, p. 7.

96 Qur'an, XVIII: 19.

97 Cf. Al-Aqfahsi, Sarh, p. 89.


When a caravan was reaching Cairo, its members behaved very much like their forefathers did while entering khans of ancient Mecca, Damascus, or the

Holy Land. Some pitched a camp in the city's suburbs and consumed the pro visions they carried, to refill them when the food was consumed. Some moved to the city caravanserais to unload the burdens. Cairo caravanserais were in some respects not much different from other establishments of this kind: when a guest arrived, he brought his provisions with him. If his food was gone, he went to the market for refills; if he was a lone pilgrim or a freelance, he bought food for himself; if, however, he traveled with a group, the food was to be

bought for the group. This was independent of the unique gastronomic circum

stances that prevailed in the Egyptian capital. These circumstances were an

additional, if sometimes unexpected, attraction that made the traveler's life eas

ier and more exquisite?the prospect of staying in Cairo meant enjoying a

choice of meals rather than discomfort or fear about provisions.

* * *

A tavern, another type of public consumption establishment whose character

and operation in medieval Cairo remains rather blurred, belongs, due to the nature of what was primarily consumed in it, to a slightly different category than a restaurant or an inn. In European culture, the tavern was a place where

food and alcoholic drinks were served and where scenes like those pictured by Dutch and Flemish masters took place on daily basis (though these, of course,

belong in the inns, too). Thus the term "tavern," as commonly used in the

English language (or "Kneipe" in German) to designate various wine-selling premises in Cairo (and other places of the Islamic world as well) appears to be,

again, not quite correct.

In the medieval Arab sources these premises are known by various names. It is rather difficult today to tell if the variety of names was equivocal with the

variety of shapes or of services offered by particular premises. Moreover, the case of the Egyptian capital is, in this respect, particularly labyrinthine?its establishments are far less well known than their Mesopotamian counterparts that, as frequent scenes of action in poems and folk tales, were fairly well described in the literary production of the period. It is exceptionally difficult to form any universal conclusions concerning public wine consumption in

medieval Cairo, for through the ages the wine-dealers' and their customers' for tunes depended, in a particular way, on the authorities' unstable attitudes towards the forbidden drink. The evidence for the vicissitudes of the wine

shops' fates is very fragmentary?what we have at our disposal is not much more than short, single notes referring to singular events, dispersed in volumes


covering six centuries of the city's history. The question of wine sales and pro duction in medieval Cairo is made even more confusing by secondary works. From these one can learn rare and somewhat mythical things about, for

instance, taverns located in the very area of al-Azhar,98 or about Muslims who ran taverns, not to mention the assertions about the Mamluk elite whose drink

ing was so heavy that it was to be blamed for the decline of the Mamluk state.99 Since these verdicts seem to originate from misinterpretation of historical

records, these records must be reconsidered.

There is a significant number of accounts proving that wine was indeed not

uncommon in Egypt and its capital throughout the Middle Ages. True, both the

local population and the members of the ruling elites, drank, though for differ ent reasons; the stuff was different, too. The production was no doubt sig nificant, at least in the periods when it was permitted by the authorities, for the taxes on it (if introduced) yielded the state very high revenues. In fact, it is

mostly the chroniclers' accounts referring to the state's periodic suspension and

reintroduction of taxes on vice (i.e. prostitution and production and sale of

intoxicating drinks)100 that are our main source of data on the wine-distributing establishments in Cairo. These records, however, are far from being a mine of

information on the premises themselves. It does not follow from them at all that

the city's so called "taverns" were numerous; it is not altogether clear, either, what they looked like, what services they offered or where exactly they were

located. Above all, there is no clear indication of an answer to the most impor tant question: were the wine-houses offering consumption, or only the cellars

and wine-shops? Nevertheless, the sources do include some clues.

The Egyptian chroniclers use a number of terms while referring to what con

temporary scholars call Cairo "taverns." The earliest record, that by Ibn al-Macmun, a Fatimid chronicler (11th century), mentions "qa'at al-hammdrin" ("wine sellers' halls") of Misr and al-Qahira.101 All we know of these establishments is that every year, at the end of the month of Gumada al-ahar, they were custom

arily closed and sealed, and that it was forbidden to sell wine in there. In the context of wine, "qa'at" are also mentioned by al-Maqrizi who reports in his

98 Peter Heine, Weinstudien: Untersuchungen zu Anbau, Produktion und Konsum des Weins im arabisch-islamischen Mittelalter, p. 54.

99 Eliyahu Ashtor, "An Essay on the Diet of the Various Classes in the Medieval Levant,"

in Biology of Man in History, ed. Robert Forster and Orest Ranum, p. 162. 100 Cf. Hassanein Rabie, The Financial System of Egypt A.H. 564-7411 A.D. 1169-1341, pp.

119-121. 101 Ibn al-Ma'mun, Ahbdr Misr, p. 104; also quoted by al-Maqrizi in Hitat, I, p. 491.



annal for 592/1196 that there was a tax on hamr (wine) reintroduced that year, and that space was cleared for displaying and selling it in the halls (qa'at) and

shops (hawanit).102 There is no information about potential wine-consumption on

the premises, though. As for the term "hawanit" (sing, hanui), it was generally used in Egypt to designate any shops or boutiques?contrary to Mesopotamia, where it more often meant wine-shops and wine-houses.103 It was this double

meaning of the term or, rather, its "Mesopotamian" meaning, that probably was

a reason for Peter Heine's mistakenly taking al-Maqrizi's ordinary shops neigh

boring the Cairo gate of Bab Zuwayla for "taverns." What in fact al-Maqrizi reported, in his annal for 590/1194, is that the sultan (then al-cAziz cUtman) criticized the projecting shops' benches (masdtib al-hawdnit) and ordered them to be demolished. Such decisions were nothing unusual in the history of Cairo?

benches, illegal stalls or any other projecting structures caused much inconve

nience in the city's narrow streets. The occasional orders to demolish them improved the traffic and were even classified by Andre Raymond as an example of a

"certain awareness of the city and its problems."104 The other record concerning

ordinary shops that were mistakenly taken for "taverns" refers to later months

of the same year, when the muhtasib of Cairo demolished shops and a stable

(hawanit wa-istabt) that were built "by certain Sadr ad-Din in the ziyada of al

Azhar mosque near his house."105 Again, the demolition was not caused by the

shops allegedly serving wine to the population, but because the establishments were either built illegally or because there was a plan to reorganize al-Azhar's

space, or because the lot they occupied was needed for something else. Again, such practice was not unusual in Cairo, and in particular in al-Qahira, whose

land was exceptionally valuable and desired. In reference to mizr, a cheap, light alcoholic drink made of fermented barley,

usually a name "buyiit" or "houses," appears. Since the term "houses" may sug

gest some similarities with wine-houses, the name "cellars" will be used here

instead. And thus, in 590/1194, al-Malik al-cAziz cUtman, son of Salah ad-Din, lifted the ban on forbidden practices: "A hashish mill was established in Harat

al-Mahmudiyya, and the mizr-cellars (buyut al-mizr) became protected and

102 Al-MaqrizI, Kitdb as-Suluk li-Ma3rifat Duwal wa-l-Muluk, I, p. 134.

103 This term was also used to designate in Arabic the New Testament's "Three Taverns"

("Al-Hawanit at-Talata"; Acts, 28, 15). Cf., e.g., Abu Nuwas's poetry; also Ibn Manzur (Ibn Mukarram), Lisdn al-cArab.

104 Heine, Weinstudien, p. 54. Andre Raymond, Cairo. City of History, p. 171. For the

legal basis of the authorities' actions see Leonor Fernandes, "Habitat et prescriptions legates," in Uhabitat traditionel dans les pays musulmans autour de la Mediterranee, II: L'histoire et

le milieu, pp. 447-458. 105

Al-MaqrizI, Suluk, I, pp. 120-121.

Sticky Note
the presence of benches. As in Florence!


heavy taxes were imposed on them; in order to increase sale in the protected cellars (al-buyiit al-mahmiyya or mawadV al-hamyi), it was prohibited to pro duce home-made mizr (al-mizr al-buyuti); and the vessels with wine were car

ried openly in front of the people's eyes in the bazaars, with no sign of disap

proval."106 Again, as in the case of wine-sellers' shops, there is no indication

that drinking occurred on the premises; on the contrary, the note about the ris

ing price of grapes "because so many were those who were pressing them [for

wine]"107 and about people carrying wine vessels suggests they bought them to

drink the contents at home (or in any other private space). Also, sultan Baybars, who while in Syria in 663/1265 decided to abolish mizr-taxes, wrote to his

viceroy in Egypt, "to eliminate the mizr-cellars (buyut al-mizr) and wipe out its

traces and demolish its cellars (buyutahu), and break its vessels (. . .)."108 When

in 665/1267 Baybars abolished a tax on hashish in Egypt, he also gave orders

to pour out wines, abolish prohibited practices, and wipe out liquor-cellars

(buyut al-muskirdt).m It is very probable that many of the medieval wine- and most of the mizr

sellers' premises, both in Cairo and in al-Fustat,110 did not only sell, but also

made their beverages themselves. These establishments resembled, presumably, other workshops in the city (dakdkin or hawanit), rather small by their nature, where people bought wine in the same fashion in which they bought other

goods in other shops. However, there must have been some extra space for the

amphorae (garra, pi. girar) in which the wine was stored. If the shop's or cel

lar's floorspace was not sufficient, the jars were kept either in the backyard

(particularly since good wine had to be exposed to the sun to mature)111 or in

front of the premises, like those that one Maghrebian traveler saw displayed

"openly."112 At the moment, we cannot definitely confirm that the above establishments

did or did not allow wine consumption inside. Judging upon Abu Nuwas's (VIII IX cent.) poetry, in the Mesopotamian circumstances bayt al-hammdr or manzil

106 Al-Maqrizi, Hitat, I, pp. 105-106; II, p. 5; idem, Suluk, I, pp. 118-119.

107 Which took place in 590/1194, when al-Malik al-cAziz cUtman, son of Salah ad-Dln, took the power (al-Maqrizi, Hitat, I, pp. 105-106).

108 Al-Maqrizi, Hitat, I, p. 105; idem, Suluk, I, p. 525.

109 Al-Maqrizi, Hitat, I, p. 106.

110 Goitein, Daily Life, pp. 253-259.

111 Goitein, Daily Life, p. 260; Michael Dols, Medieval Islamic Medicine. Ibn Ridwdn's

Treatise "On the Prevention of Bodily Ills in Egypt," p. 91; for detailed description of the

wine-production process see Heine, Weinstudien, pp. 30-43. 112 Ibn Sa'Id al-Magribi, An-Nugum az-Zdhira fl Hulyi Hadarat al-Qdhira (al-qism al-hdss

bi-l-Qdhira min Kitdb Al-Mugrib fl Hulyi al-Magrib), p. 31. In al-Fustat, minor dealers also

stored and sold wine on the decks in smaller vessels; see Goitein, Daily Life, p. 259.



al-hammdr signified the wine-seller's/wine-maker's home that was, at the same

moment, a wine-shop and, quite often, also a wine-house. But, as was already

pointed out, Cairo did not resemble urban centers on the Euphrates or Tigris and any analogy, either with Baghdad or with wine-famous towns of Tikrit or

Qutrubbul, should rather not be made here.113 Especially that buyut al-mizr

(mizr-houses/cellars) and qa'at al-hammarin (wine-sellers'/makers' halls) are not

exactly the same as bayt al-hammar (wine-maker's/seller's house). On the other

hand, however, it was not an exclusively Mesopotamian peculiarity that a wine

maker's residence was connected to his tavern; this style was practiced in

Roman towns and, what is particularly significant, in the Greek urban centers

of Egypt, where a thirsty company of wine addicts would raid a winemaker's

house to get something to drink?exactly like Abu Nuwas did in his home

country.114 But Greek-Egyptian taverns were usually located in the porticos fac

ing onto the street, a tradition which, naturally enough, could not be continued

in Muslim Egypt. The wine-shops, even if tolerated by the rulers for revenue

reasons, had to remain outside the law, and as such could not be of too osten

tatious a character. What seems to hold out against the functioning of wine

houses in Cairo is the fact that numerous Ayyubid and Mamluk edicts referring to forbidden practices do not mention the activity that usually a wine-house was

designed for, namely, wine-drinking: they name wine-makers, grape-pressing, wine,

wine-selling, and drunkards, but nothing that would suggest the existence of

premises designed for drinking, or wine-drinking on any premises.115 This of course does not mean that there was not a single place in the city

where a man could not consume wine. From the earliest times it was very pop ular among the Cairenes to drink on the Rawda island near the Nilometer, on

the boats on the Nile and on the river's banks, particularly during the Coptic festivals of Nawruz and Laylat al-Gitas when people bought various foods from

temporary stalls and drank wine openly.116 It is difficult to say if the wine they

113 If only for the fact that the attitude of the Abbasids towards wine differed fundamen

tally from that represented by the Mamluk rulers. 114

Dyson, Society, p. 175; Anna Swiderkowna, Zycie codzienne w Egipcie greckich papirusow, pp. 239-240.

115 Though there is nothing to indicate the wine-shops were designed, or served as, wine

houses, we cannot rule it out that in Cairo's early days, especially in the Christian neigh borhoods in al-Fustat of the Fatimid era, when there was a "Wine-Sellers' Street" (Darb an-Nabbadln) both in al-Qahira and in al-Fustat, it could happen that there were mats spread inside or in the backyard of the shops for people to sit and drink their wine. Particularly, the term "qa'at (al-hammarin)" ("halls of wine-sellers") may suggest some larger premises. 116 For the study of Coptic festivals see: Huda Lutfi, "Coptic Festivals on the Nile:

Aberrations of the Past?" in The Mamluks in Egyptian Politics and Society, ed. Thomas



drank was also sold there by the producers or merchants or was brought by the

people with them. It was only in 706/1306 that amirs Baybars and Salar "pro hibited the boats crossing the Hakimi Canal because of much depravity and the

display of the sinful activities that happened there, and women playing their

charms on the boats and sitting with men with uncovered faces and golden ker

chiefs on their heads and drinking wine."117 There were also magalis al-hamr,

wine-sessions, friendly gatherings to profit from the pleasure of drink but also

of other amusements. Such parties, if held by the nobles, must have taken place in belvederes, pavilions or enclosures located in the neighborhood of one of

Cairo ponds, like the one built on Birkat al-Habas by Anuk, sultan an-Nasir

Muhammad's son, who apparently held his magalis al-hamr there.118

But the Cairenes who were not members of the establishment must have had

their wine-parties, too. Though al-Qadi al-Fadil does not use the term "magalis al-hamr," it seems that it was exactly what he had in mind while describing, in

587/1191, the area of Harat ar-Rum, or the "Quarter of the Greeks," where a

group of Muslims and Christians gathered on a Ramadan night to drink wine, and nobody punished them.119 Magalis al-hamr, however, something akin to

ancient Greek symposia, can by no means be called taverns.120 Nor can homes,

apartments, pavilions, boats, Nile shores or ponds' banks be considered as permanent

public wine-serving premises or be compared to such. They were just tempo

rary, if regular, scenes of drinking sessions, parties or friendly gatherings: some

on private territories, complete with private servants and private singers; some, like the banks of the river during popular holidays, on the city's grounds.121

There were also other ways. As in many times and places, so in Cairo wine

drinking was not unrelated to "low" forms of entertainment. There were also

premises where intoxicating beverages and hashish went hand in hand with

Philipp, pp. 254-282; on Nawruz: Boaz Shoshan, Popular Culture in Medieval Cairo, pp. 40 51. See also, e.g., Al-MaqrizI, Hitat, I, p. 493; Ibn lyas, Badd3ic, I, p. 212.

117 Al-Maqrizi, Suluk, II, p. 29.

118 Al-MaqrizI, Suluk, II, p. 492.

119 Al-Maqrizi, hitat, I, p. 24.

120 Cf. Ashtor ("Essay," p. 150), who uses al-Maqrizi's story on wine-sessions held by Anuk on the pond of Birkat al-Habas to support the thesis about Moslems who "also kept taverns."

121 The most characteristic place of this kind was situated on the Rawda island near the

Nilometer; see, eg., Ibn Gubayr, Rihlat Ibn Gubayr, Beirut 1959, p. 29; Al-Maqrizi, Hitat, I,

p. 106; idem, Suluk, II, p. 642 (the author mentions that people pitched their tents there and that it was a place of big depravity because men mingled with women there and practiced forbidden activities; also 1001 Nights, "Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House of Baghdad," and "The Jewish Physician's Tale," where Birkat al-Habas, or the "Ethiopian Pond" is




other amusements?these places, however, had nothing to do with wine-shops. But they probably should not be called "taverns," either. In fact the sources do not confirm expressis verbis that "the wine was drunk" on these premises but the context strongly suggests this was the case. To designate these establish

ments, Egyptian chroniclers used either the name hdndt or buyiit al-fawdhis and mention them as places where all forbidden activities were taking place.122 The

latter term stands for "houses of prostitution" and needs no comments. The for

mer, hanat, or "khans," is sometimes considered to designate "taverns."123 In

fact, khans were hostels with occasional prostitute service and as such can be

compared, if anything, to inns rather than to taverns;124 it is unclear, however, if it was possible for someone other than a khan's guest to come in and just have a cup of wine. The Baghdadi merchant from Sheherazade's story drank

quite a quantity of this beverage during his stay in Han Masrur, but he rented an apartment there.

To the best of the author's knowledge, the only place reported to have served wine in medieval Cairo was the building known as Hizanat al-Bunud; though in fact neither a khan nor a house of prostitution, it possessed some features of

both. Its story, as narrated by al-Maqrizi, contains some unique data that are of

122 Al-MaqrizI, Suluk, I, p. 578 (667 h.); II, pp. 152 (715 h.), 211 (720 h.); idem, Hitat, I,

pp. 89, 106. 123

Irvin, Arabian Nights, p. 155. 124 The inclusion of some of the inn/tavern-style attractions in the Near Eastern khans'

offer apparently occurred in the case of a number of the Cairo establishments, at least in the Bahri Mamluk era. Khans were mentioned by al-Maqrizi several times in the context of the authorities' fights against various "sinful things" (i.e., above all, wine and prostitutes) that were practiced in the country. Thus the chronicler reports that in 666/1268 "the sultan issued orders to eliminate wines, depravity and prostitutes from al-Qahira and Misr, and from all the provinces of Egypt. So all provinces were cleared of forbidden activities. And the hdndt in which depraved people customarily stayed were taken by force, and the spoiled women

were removed and imprisoned until they married" (Suluk, I, p. 578). In another record of the event (Hitat, I, p. 106) the author is more precise and specifies that what was raided were

the "khans that were intended for prostitution," a detail suggesting that it was not all the

city's khans that offered sexual services. Al-Maqrizi also adds that "the people of those khans became deprived of all their belongings and some of them were banished." Also in 720/1320 the houses of prostitution (buyut al-fawdhis) were suppressed and the khans were closed. And "the sultan wrote to his governors in Syria to (...) pour out the wines, close the khans and call on people of ill-repute (ahl al-fawdhis) to repent." (Suluk, II, p. 211). Another interest

ing remark refers to the times of sultan an-Nasir Muhammad who, in 715/1315, abolished

many taxes on vice, including the one that constituted a fee collected from every slave man

and slave woman who entered the khans to practice prostitution (Ibn Tagri BirdI, An-Nugum az-Zdhira fi Muluk Misr wa-l-Qdhira, IX, p. 48; al-Maqrizi, Hitat, I, p. 89; idem, Suluk, II, p. 152). The same concerned hdndt of the Ayyubid and Mamluk Damascus; cf., e.g., Habib

Zayyat, "Hanat Dimasq," Al-Machriq XXXVI (1938): 66-70, and fragments from Ibn Qadi Suhba's Day I and Ibn Katir's Al-Biddya wa-n-Nihdya, as quoted therein.



consequence for the present study; large portions of the account quoted below are meant to contribute to the entire picture.125 Hizanat al-Bunud, originally a

Fatimid arsenal that in Ayyubid times was turned into a prison, belonged to the

buildings of the Great Eastern Palace and was located between Qasr as-Sawk

and Bab al-Td. When al-Malik an-Nasir Muhammad, son of Qalawun, came

back from his exile to assume the royal power in Egypt for the third time (709/1310), he brought with him a significant number of Christian prisoners from Syria and

Armenia. A group of them was settled in the Citadel. The other group was

accommodated in Hizanat al-Bunud. "The Armenians filled the building, so

much so that the prison became obsolete there. And the sultan made in Hizanat

al-Bunud lodgings for them."126 If we are to believe the chronicler who was

born too late to be an eyewitness to the events in question,127

they had their children there and pressed [the grapes for] wines so that during a single year they produced 32 000 jars [of wine] which they sold openly. The pig's meat hung there over the counter (just like camel's meat in the bazaar) and was sold without shame. They also established there places where people could gather to do forbidden

things, so that the sinners came to them and spent days at their place drinking wine,

associating with whores, and [committing] other misdeeds. Wives of many men were

spoiled there in an atrocious way, as were a lot of their children, and a group of the

amirs' mamluks.128 Even if a woman left her family or her husband, or if a slave girl left her masters, or if a boy left his father, and entered the Armenians' place in Hizanat

al-Bunud, it was impossible to take him from them, whoever he was.129

But "the sultan shut his eyes to it, taking into account his interests and pol

icy that was then required because of the agreement between him and the kings of the Franks."130 Even so that when amir Al Malik al-Gukandar, who had a

house next to Hizanat al-Bunud, and whose mamluks were said to drink wine

in there, complained against it to the sultan, the latter said: "Oh, Hagg (...), if

you do not like your neighbors, then just move somewhere else" (which in fact the amir did).131

125 Al-Maqrizi, Hitat, I, p. 425; idem, Musawwadat Kitdb al-Mawd'iz wa-l-Ftibdr bi-Dikr

al-Hitat wa-l-Atdr, pp. 144-148; idem, Suluk, II, pp. 640-642. 126

Al-Maqrizi, Suluk, II, p. 640 127

Al-Maqrlzi's credibility and his indebtedness to other authors was studied by Donald

P. Little in An Introduction to Mamluk Historiography. An Analysis of Annalistic and Bio

graphical Sources for the Reign of al-Malik an-Ndsir Muhammad Ibn Qaldwun, pp. 76-80. 128 Mamluks of the amirs' or officers were, in the military hierarchy, on the lowest levels

of the ladder. Unlike the sultans' mamluks, they could not acquire titles or posts or partici pate in factional struggle. 129

Al-MaqrizI, Suluk, II, pp. 640-641. The text between the ( ) brackets added from idem,

Hitat, I, p. 425. 130

Al-MaqrizI, Hitat, I, p. 425. 131

Al-Maqrizi, Suluk, II, p. 641.



The situation changed only after sultan al-Malik an-Nasir's death (741/1341), when the prefect of Cairo (wali al-Qahira), acting under the orders of the same

amir Al Malik al-Gukandar who had become a vice-regent by then, surrounded

the edifice (744/1343) and, helped by the populace and the riffraff, poured out

its wines, took out the female and young male prostitutes and spoiled men,

caught the Franks and the Armenians, and leveled the building to the ground. "It was a great day, like the day of entering Acre or Tripoli, so horrible were

the sins committed there." A curious detail of the story is that more or less at

the same time, the prefect also ordered the expulsion of a group of Frankish

prisoners who lived in the Cairo Citadel (then the seat of the sultanian court) and smash the jars of wine that were found with them, for they reportedly

spoiled the mamluks who quartered in the fortress and the crimes they com

mitted there were comparable to those that happened in Hizanat al-Bunud. Both

groups of Franks were then moved to the neighborhood of the mausoleum of

Sayyida Naflsa, somewhere between the mosque of Ibn Tulun and al-Fustat.

The joy of the population that accompanied demolition of the building indicates

that the scale of sins committed here against Islam was indeed above the

average, even if the chronicler exaggerates somewhat, and even if the main

motive behind the whole operation was the rage of amir Al Malik al-Gukandar, an officer who was not only particularly negative towards any entertainment132

but who also had his personal reasons to run a private war against the Frankish


But the importance of Hizanat al-Bunud for the present study does not result from the fact that its end was so spectacular or that there were prostitutes of

both sexes and that Franks "did there all the terrible things, including adultery (. . .) and giving shelter to any debtors, criminals and others who entered it." It

is important because these activities were accompanied not only by the produc tion and sale of wine, but, most significantly, by its consumption. It is also

important because, to the best of the author's knowledge, it is one of the few

historical accounts mentioning the term hana in reference to the Cairene wine

dealers' premises: "It was one of the Armenians' hanat (hana min hanat al

Arman)" says the al-Maqrizi on Hizanat al-Bunud.133 "Hana" (pi. hanat), if used

in the Mesopotamian or Syrian environment, does mean a "wine-house." And it

is defined as such by an Egyptian author Ibn Manzur in his dictionary Lisdn al

132 Al-MaqrizI, Suluk, II, p. 642.

133 Musawwadat al-Hitat, p. 147; also Ibn lyas, Badd'ic, I, p. 500, who notes that "when it ceased to serve as a prison, it became a hana."



cArab (end of the 13th century).134 Apparently, the same meaning was referred

to by Abu al-Muzaffar135 (as quoted by Ibn Tagri Bird!) who, while reporting on the arrest and killing (642/1244) of a qadi who used to go to the mosque in a drunken state, compared the qadi's house, where the latter used to drink, to

the hanat.136

But the term hana usually means more than a mere "wine-house." The own

ers of various Mesopotamian premises that Abu Nuwas used to frequent and

praise in his poetry did not only produce, store, sell, and serve the wine, but

usually also offered the services of male and female prostitutes. And it was such an Abu Nuwas-style "tavern," run by the Franks and Armenians, that was

located in an historical building in the heart of Islamic Cairo, causing much

headache to all the neighborhood and to the pious Mamluk amir in particular. The institution was unique?partly an inn,137 partly a hana, it could not be

classified in either of the categories. It is intriguing that Hizanat al-Bunud,

despite all of the sexual affairs that were practiced within its walls, was never

called a "house of prostitution" by the chronicler. The reason behind it may lay in the fact that latter establishments did not produce the wine nor sold it in jars,

while the wine production, sale and consumption was the "Little Armenia"

134 Cf. also Ibn Murtada, Tag al-cArus, where "al-hdna" is defined as "place where wine

is sold, which is a place of the wine-maker (. ..)," IX, p. 188. 135 Sibt ibn al-Gawzi, the author of Mifdt az-Zamdn. 136

Ibn Tagrl Birdi, Nugum, VI, p. 350. But cf. also Ibn Iyas's information on the demo

lition, in 832/1428, of wine-peddling establishments (mawddi3 al-hdndt) and houses of ill

repute (buyt al-fisq) by amir Qurqmas (Badd3ic, II, p. 122). Apart from the above accounts, "hanat" were mentioned at least once more in the Egyptian context: in his annal for

567/1171, al-Maqrizi reports that the wines had been temporarily banned and wine-peddling establishments ("hdndtuhd") had been closed in Alexandria, but this was repealed [for the sake of] of Salah ad-Din's diwdn. Their places (mawddVuhd) were opened and their forbid den activities (mandkiruhd) became visible. It is very probable that "taverns" of some sort

prospered in Alexandria. One should keep in mind that Alexandria has always been very much unlike Cairo: the Europeans of all sorts (from whom the majority of the potential "tav

erns'" clientele?and often the owners?hailed) were much more numerous there than in

Cairo; moreover, Alexandria was not only a provincial city that, as such, was treated far less

seriously by the authorities than the capital; it was also a port city, open to the Mediterranean

world, where wine constituted an important component of the culture. Cf. E. Ashtor who maintains that the European colonies in Alexandria "had their taverns maintained by profes sional innkeepers. In a notarial act drawn up in Alexandria in 1421 not less than five

innkeepers are mentioned, one of them an Anconitan, one man from Rhodes, one from

Cyprus, one a native Christian, and one a Greek or Cretan. But Venetians also kept inns in

Alexandria. Probably all of them offered their guests wine imported from Crete" (Levantine Trade, p. 410).

137 Considering al-Maqrizi's account about pork being sold there ("just the way the

camel's meat was sold in the suqs"), it would be very intriguing if there were a special kitchen within the structure serving the particular needs of the inhabitants.


colony's most characteristic feature, that allowed to perceive its members as

wine-makers rather than brothel owners (one wonders, by the way, how the

Franks earned their living after having been moved to the Sayyida Nafisa area). As far as this study is concerned, the above records do not reveal much more

than the fact that beside the "modest" shops owned by the local "People of the

Book," wine in Cairo was also sold on the premises whose character was at

least suspicious, and that if alcohol-drinking was practiced in any public houses at all, it was not in the wine-dealers' shops but, rather, in institutions where it

constituted just one of the attractions. This could be the case with the "taverns"

mentioned by Leo Africanus, who speaks of the premises in the context of the

"distractions" of ill repute that one could find in the early 16th century in the

Bab al-Luq area, in the square full of jugglers and fallen women. But this is

only a hypothetical possibility?generally we cannot confirm the existence of

any commercial establishments in Cairo where alcoholic drinks would be not

only sold, but consumed as well?except, of course, Hizanat al-Bunud.

We can, however, attempt to form a cautious hypothesis that such premises did not exist in late Mamluk and early Ottoman times?which, however, should not make anyone depreciate Leo Africanus's value as a reliable witness. It is

not clear, though, if the places he saw could be classified as establishments that

sold and served wine. For we never read about anyone going to whichever tav ern to have a good time; the wine-lovers generally drank at home or at friends'

places. After all, von Harff who, while in Cairo, made friends with two German

mamluks, did not go to a tavern with them in quest of wine?all three had to

drink wine secretly first in the mamluks' houses, then also at times in the Jews' or the Syrian Christians' houses.138 Also a group of Christians who in 928/1522

got into trouble after offending the shaykh of al-MaqsI mosque (he had enough of their brawl and scuffle), were drinking in a private house situated next to

the mosque.139 And Malik al-Umara' Hayr Bak who in the mornings sat in judg ment in the "insanity of drunkenness," used to drink all night at home (924/

1518).140 On the other hand, the fictional Cairene merchant CA1I al-Misri,

together with his young and mischievous friends, whose Arabian Nights' story

138 yon j-[arff ajso reported, while talking of the local "Mahomedans," that many of them "drink wine secretly with Mamelukes and Jews." Pilgrimage, pp. 102, 118.

139 Ibn lyas, Badd3ic, V, p. 475.

140 Ibn lyas, Badd3ic, V, p. 255. Cf. Lane who insists that "many of the Muslims in the

present day drink wine, brandy etc." in secrecy of their private homes and within a closed circle of selected acquaintances (Manners, pp. 99, 153; idem, Arabian Society in the Middle

Ages, pp. 149-154).



apparently dates back to the years of Ottoman occupation,141 preferred to spend their days eating, drinking and listening to music more in the "wine-sessions"

style: the company either moved from garden to garden every day or stayed for a whole month on the Rawda island on the Nile, but not in taverns. And the

earlier-discussed CA1I al-Misri's brother-in-craft, the Arabian Nights' Baghdadi merchant who ordered wine to be brought to his apartment in Han Masrur, drank the beverage alone instead of going out to a tavern.

To be sure, there is a narration in the Arabian Nights that mentions a "real"

wine-house, a hammara, in Cairo: in one of Sheherazade's stories CAH az

Zaybaq, a local rogue, walks through the streets of Cairo and, passing by the

wine-house (hammara), decides to go in. There are people sitting in seven rows, but depressed CA1I prefers to stay alone, so the wine-seller offers him a separate

place where CAH can get drunk by himself. Then he leaves, and walks for some

time until he reaches Darb al-Ahmar street.142 In fact the hammara, an institu

tion whose existence in Damascus and Baghdad is confirmed by non-Egyptian chroniclers143 is mentioned very rarely in the historical accounts written by Egyptians. For example, in his multivolume chronicle Ibn Tagri Bird! only once makes use

of the word, which is in a record concerning some anti-women restrictions

issued by Dawlat Huga, the Cairo muhtasib. But the term "hammara," as men

tioned by this historian, applies to a hypothetical situation and not to any par ticular event or place.144 It is very much the case of other famous Egyptian chronicles who in the context of wine generally name establishments discussed

earlier on in this paper, and not the hammarat. We may thus presume that the

latter establishment was not really known in the city and that the term itself,

apparently not commonly used, could have been imported from elsewhere?

141 1001 Nights, "Ali the Cairene and the Haunted House of Baghdad." When CA1I orga nized his party on the Rawda island, he took with him the cooks, the servants, and the coffee makers. The latter appeared in Cairo only in the 16th century.

142 1001 Nights, "The Adventures of Mercury Ali of Cairo."

143 Ibn Katir, Biddya, XII, p. 118; XIV, pp. 11, 85; Al-Basrawl (cAla5 ad-Din as-SafTl), Tdrih al-Basrawi, I, p. 205; Also Ibn Hagar al-cAsqalanI uses the term "hammarat" in the

Egyptian context when he reports on the imposition of taxes on Alexandrian "wine-houses"

in the late 16th century; Ibn Hagar, however, was not an Egyptian (but even if he was, the

situation in Alexandria cannot, as mentioned earlier, be compared to that in Cairo; Ad-Durar

al-Kdmina fi A3ydn al-Md3a at-Tdmina, II, p. 50). 144 "For a decent women can be recognized, even if she happened to be in a wine-house

(...)" (Ibn Tagri BirdI, Nugum, XV, p. 95, in: Maktabat at-Tdrih, op. cit. As for the more

recent centuries, cf. Al-Gabarti (early XIX century) who speaks of a number of Copts get

ting drunk in the hammdra (cAgd3ib al-atdr fi at-tardgim wa-al-ahbdr, II, p. 228).



particularly that CAH az-Zaybaq was originally a Baghdadi criminal;145 fictional

adventures of this semi-legendary hero, produced in the Abbasid capital, at some point reached Mamluk Cairo, where they were "rewritten" and adapted to

local circumstances.

Considering the Baghdadi provenance of the stories of CAH, one should not

wonder then that the establishment like hammara found its way into them. The

Cairene storytellers (or whoever rewrote the stories), however, had to care for

topographical realities and it seems that as sizable an establishment as the one

containing seven rows of drinking people could not be placed by them in the

most popular area of the city in a completely nonsensical manner. Moreover, since seating in rows while eating or drinking was by no means a local man

ner (Near Easterners generally sat in a circle), such an arrangement, if indeed

practiced in Cairo, points to the establishment's uniqueness and its foreign char acter. Incidentally, the only place in Cairo that could fit the hammara charac

teristics as described by Sheherazade, and whose existence is confirmed by his

torical sources, was the "tavern" of the Armenians. In the neighborhood of its

building there ran the city's main alley that led, through the gate of Bab

Zuwayla, to Darb al-Ahmar street. If the adventures of CAH az-Zaybaq of Cairo were "Cairized" after Hizanat al-Bunud became the lodgings of the Franks and

Armenians, which is not impossible, we should not exclude the possibility that in popular imagination CAH drunk his wine in this very place. True, such rea

soning may sound too fantastic and far-fetched; but it is also true that if cAli's

hammara, located within a walking distance from Darb al-Ahmar street, was an

echo of any real premises of this kind, it could only have been those of Hizanat

al-Bunud?if only for the fact that the very existence of other similar establishments is rather doubtful. There is no indication in the sources that would allow us to

compare the Fatimid "wine-sellers' halls" (qa'at al-hammarin) or Mamluk "mizr

cellars" (buyut al-mizr) to taverns like the masraba in Acre in which, in 1290, the Franks and the Muslims gathered to drink and then participated in the dis

turbances that finally led to the end of the Crusader states,146 or like the daskara

that al-Harit, the hero of al-Hariri's Maqamat, visited in cAna, the city on the

Euphrates famous for its wines, or Abu Nuwas's hawanit and hanat, where one

could make a policeman drink wine through a tube.147 Especially that ordinary

145 Irvin, Arabian Nights, p. 145.

146 Safi5 Ibn AH, Al-Fadl al-Ma3tur min Sir at al-Malik al-Mansur, in Paulina B. Lewicka,

Safi3 Ibn All's Biography of the Mamluk Sultan Qaldwun, p. 417. 147 In ancient Mesopotamia, beer was drunk through tubes/straws because the brewing

methods left a scum on the surface, see Dominique Collon, "Banquets in the Art of the Ancient Near East," Res Orientates IV: Banquets d'Orient (1992): p. 24.


Cairenes, apparently, did not go out too frequently to drink in those days? when the viceroy Al Malik al-Gukandar (the one who demolished Hizanat al

Bunud) encouraged the populace of Cairo to hunt whoever they find in a

drunken state, at the end only one soldier was caught.148 The present study's conclusion addresses the reasons for this.

* * *

The Cairenes doubtless considered eating and drinking outdoors unaccept able. Witnessing public consumption annoyed them, so much so that the issue

became one of the motives behind the "cultural clash" that followed the

Ottoman occupation of Cairo in 923/1517. The sight of Ottoman soldiers habit

ually eating on horseback and drinking alcohol "openly in the city streets"

offended the local population no less than the occupiers' refraining from fasting

during the month of Ramadan or their neglect of the Ramadan mosque

prayers.149 There is no one explanation of the Cairenes' approach to public con

sumption, as there is no simple answer to the question of why there was no

commercial eating establishment, no "real" inn, and no tavern in medieval

Cairo. Each of these three kinds of premises was absent from the Egyptian

capital for its own reasons. These reasons appear to share, however, two fun

damental elements that not only allow us to bring them together within one

common "foodways" framework, but also mark out Cairo's location in social

history, making the behavior of its population more understandable.

The first such element is the Egyptians' immutably conservative attitude

towards their own manners and customs. As Herodotus put it, the Egyptians, who were, "in most of their manners and customs, exactly reverse to common

practice of mankind," were generally "averse to adopt Greek customs, or, in a

word, those of any other nation."150 What the Greek historian observed in the mid-fifth century B.C. was valid for other times, too: Persian occupation, the Hellenistic administration (when "the conflict of interest between native and

immigrant was both economic and cultural")151 as well as the Roman period, particularly since the Romans introduced "veritable ancient apartheid" in the

148 Ibn Tagri BirdI, Nugum, X, p. 88. 149

Ibn Iyas, BaddH', V, p. 208; cf. D. Ayalon, "Mamluk Military Aristocracy During the

First Years of the Ottoman Occupation of Egypt," in The Islamic World. From Classical to

Modern Times. Essays in Honor of Bernard Lewis, ed. C. E. Bosworth, p. 421. 150

Herodotus, II, 35, 91. 151

Dorothy J. Crawford "Food: Tradition and Change in Hellenistic Egypt," World Archeology, 11/2 (1979): 141.



province.152 The autochthonous Egyptians apparently remained unchanged under

the Byzantines and other foreign rulers after the Muslim conquest as well, pay

ing as little attention to them as they had paid before "to the majority of Greek

and Roman officials, nobility, and intellectuals."153 In the context of the question at hand, this attitude of the local population is

important: it means not only that the Egyptians rejected anything foreign, but

also that they invariably continued to live the life they knew, thus keeping the

tradition of their forefathers undisturbed. If a habit was not traditionally prac ticed by native Egyptians, there was little chance it could be adopted from local

Greeks154 or residents of any of the occupying empires. This means that even if

any of the discussed establishments?taverns, for example?had been intro

duced into Egyptian Greek cities, its functioning could not have affected the rest

of the country, for the local population simply would not have been interested

in it.

The second point touches on Islam itself or, rather, on the nature of its

influence upon the population of Cairo. Each of the three cases discussed in the

present study was at least partly explained by the Islamic law, and particularly

by various instances from the Sunna of the Prophet: the religiously motivated

hospitality, religiously connoted negative perception of eating in the street, or

religiously reinforced traveler's code, were all of consequence. The ban on alco

hol was not insignificant, either. This in fact allows us to conclude that the Cairenes'

compliance with Islam was at least partly responsible for the absence of con

sumption establishments in their city. Indeed, Cairo, unlike, for instance, Alexandria, was very Islamic at its roots. While most of the country resisted Islam for ages, Cairo knew no other pattern (except for looking, from time to time, at the

neighboring al-Fustat). Islam remained the city's fundamental feature through out its history. Putting aside the case of the Fatimid dynasty, in whose times

Cairo was not really an urban center, and who generally did not care much about what their subjects did, the soldier-like approach to Islam of the later

rulers, the Ayyubids and the Mamluks, was more active and more widely felt.

The Mamluks not only made Islam prevail in Egypt: above all, they made it

blossom in Cairo.

152 Robert K. Ritner, "Egypt under the Roman Rule: the Legacy of Ancient Egypt," in The

Cambridge History of Egypt, vol. I, p. 6. 153

Darby, Food, II, p. 587. 154

Though this probably did not apply to the Hellenized Egyptians (or Egyptianized Greeks, descendants of mixed Greco-Egyptian parentage) and maybe to some privileged Egyptian families.



It would not be surprising at all, then, if this Islamic constitution of the city

effortlessly kept in check any local pre-Islamic practices that attempted to pen etrate the city walls. And yet this was not the case. Though the Cairo Christian

minority was rather weak, many of the indigenous Coptic or even pagan cus

toms and practices, non-Islamic in nature, easily found their way into the town

and the life of its Muslim community: popular festivals on the Nile, visiting of

graves, and drinking of wine and barley beer are the most popular examples.155 But the Muslim Cairenes were not open to just any of the innovative influences.

Conforming, in a sense, with the ancient rule observed by Herodotus, the inhab

itants of Cairo, though in significant part foreigners themselves, did not let for

eign ways affect their lives.156 The only non-Islamic practice acceptable was the

local tradition of the native Egyptians. The reasoning presented so far enables

us, then, to trace the explanation of the absence of the commercial eating estab

lishments in Cairo to two phenomena: the Egyptians' concurrent faithfulness to

their own practices and their indifference to pre-Islamic influences of foreign

origin157 on the one hand, and on the other, the Cairenes' compliance with the

ordinances of the legal sources of Islam.

Taking into consideration that until the end of the 18th century there was no

restaurant in Europe, one should not wonder that there were none in the

medieval Egyptian metropolis either. Moreover, considering the Islamic ban on

alcohol, one should not be surprised that there were no taverns in Cairo. What

confuses the matter somewhat is the fact that restaurants and taverns were not

unknown in medieval Baghdad, and that the medieval Cairenes did not refrain

from drinking alcohol. This not only suggests that the circumstances in the Egyptian and the Iraqi capitals were affected by quite different influences, but also urges us to look at this problem from yet another perspective.

The fact that the attitudes of al-Fustat Jews towards eating in the street

(which they considered undignified) or towards the question of hospitality were

almost identical with those of the Cairo Muslims suggests that what shaped cer

tain types of behavior in this locality had to emanate from one source. In other

words, it implies that the local practices were prompted by a common ancient

155 Though, as far as public drinking is concerned, the rulers of Cairo, unlike the Abbasids

of Baghdad, were very effective in guarding the social mores. 156 It is, in fact, very interesting how tens of thousands of foreigners who came to al-Fustat

and Cairo from every possible direction and settled there for good conformed to the local

ways. 157 This does not refer to material culture.



sociocultural tradition whose roots stretched far beyond the outset of the Islamic era and whose heritage made the old taboos binding for the future generations. This must have been the case with the eating and drinking out. The logic behind

the customary practice of excluding food service from the post-classical Near

Eastern caravanserai must have had similar roots.

This ancient influence, however, seems to have been of limited range: valid

and common for Egypt and Palestine, and for at least part of the Arab

Peninsula, it did not reach as far as Iraq and Persia. This limitation is probably

responsible for certain cultural differences between the two regions. It is prob

ably why the Jews and Christians of Iraq ran taverns, and those of al-Fustat did

not.158 Probably this is also why in Iraq one could eat out, while in al-Fustat

and Cairo he could not. Moreover, it may explain why there are records con

cerning food service in the caravanserais located in territories east of Iraq, while

for Syro-Palestine and Egypt there are none.

What the above observations indicate is that the Islamic rules (those relating to consumption in the street, hospitality, and traveling) introduced to what was

then mostly Christian Egypt were apparently not perceived here as carriers of

new, alien ideas. Rather, Islamic law (in this case, in the form of Arab-Beduin

customs endorsed by the new religion) merely reinforced the set of ageless rules

for social behavior in Egypt, al-Fustat and Cairo. The Egyptians' faithfulness to

their own customs and the Cairenes' observance of the Islamic law were

responsible for the local attitude towards public consumption and, therefore, for

the absence of consumption establishments in Cairo. But it would not have worked this way were it not for the fact that Islam itself descended from the same ancient social and cultural tradition of which Egypt was a part. The two

elements could become active factors because they fitted each other. In other

words, the Islamic tradition relating to the problems in question matched the

local culture. For wherever the Islamic ordinances were alien or contrary to the

ancient, indigenous way?as with the ban on alcohol?they were not readily welcomed.

158 which was despite of the fact that the Jewish community of al-Fustat included, besides the Palestinians, the Babylonian, or Iraqi Jews, as well. Goitein, The Individual, p. 40, asserts

that "Jewish taverns (...) are practically absent from Geniza."




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