We can thank a ninth-century man with the nickname “The Blackbird” for introducing the concept of three-course meals into Europe. Eating habits were totally transformed when Ziryab landed in Andalusia in the ninth century and said meals should start with soup, followed by the main course of fish, meat or fowl and finished off with fruits and nuts.

Medieval Muslims, I like many others ate according to seasonal influences.  Typical winter meals used vegetables such as sea kale, beets, cauliflower, turnips, parsnips, carrots, celery, peas, broad beans, lentils, chickpeas, olives. Hard wheat, and nuts.

These were usually eaten with meat dishes. Desserts usually consisted of dried fruits such as figs, dates, raisins, and prunes. The fruits were accompanied by drinks made from syrups of violet, jasmine, aloe, medicinal spices, fruit pastilles, and gums.

By contrast, their summer diet consisted of 11 types of green beans, radishes, lettuces, chicory, aubergines, carrots, cucumbers, gherkins, watercress, marrow, courgettes, and rice. The meat accompanying these was mainly poultry, ostrich, and beef. Desserts included fruits such as lemon, lime, quinces, nectarines, mulberries, cherries, plums. apricots, grapes, pomegranates, watermelon, pears, apples, and honeydew melon. Drinks were made from syrups and preserves of fruit pastilles, lemon, rose, jasmine, ginger, and fennel

This banquet of food was presented on a tablecloth, the concept of which was spread in Andalusia by Ziryab. He also changed the heavy metal drinking goblets and gold cups used on the dinner tables of the Cordoban coats to a delicate crystal.

Abul-Hasan 'Ali ibn Nafi’ was nicknamed Ziryab, “The Blackbird," because of his melodious voice and dark complexion. A musician and fashion designer, he came from Iraq in the ninth century to Cordoba, Andalusia, one of the leading cultural centres of Muslim civilisation. Here he set fashions in eating, etiquette, clothes, and music that has lasted until today. Because of his impact, you can read more about his great achievements.

The Blackbird became the foremost trendsetter of this time. His talent generated an invitation to Moorish Spain, where he received a salary of 200 golden dinars in addition to many privileges,

With him, he brought fine etiquette, cooking, fashion, and even toothpaste.

He also, brought many pieces from Egypt such as a rock crystal from the Fatimid period in Cairo, Egypt during the tenth or eleventh century. Ziryab bought these crystals to the dinner table in the ninth century, after Abbas ibn Firnas introduced it to Al-Andalus, the Arabic name given to the Iberian Peninsula during Muslim rule.

In the most European aristocratic circles, the demand for Asian recipes and spices increased rapidly. Sources from the chronicles of the pope in Avignon in the 14th century tell us that ships from Beirut brought jams, preserves, rice and special flour for making cakes plus compensatory laxatives.

Queen Christina of Denmark took care to follow the Muslim diet and imported their products and fruits. Since Denmark could mostly supply apples and rye, it is perhaps “food for thought” to consider the origin of Danish pastries.

Crystal was developed in Andalusia due to the ingenuity of another Muslim, ’Abbas ibn Firnas, who died in 887. In his experiments, he manufactured glass from sand and stone, establishing a crystal industry based on rocks mined north of Badajoz. Most of the Andalusian rock crystal pieces that have survived are found in European churches and monasteries, the most famous among them being a spherical bottle currently in the Astorga Cathedral, Spain. It bears vegetal patterns and a Kufic inscription, the common decorative elements on rock crystal pieces.

As well as introducing crystal that was used for drinking glasses, 'Abbas ibn Firnas was the same man who used glass in a most ingenious way to construct a planetarium, supplying it with artificial clouds, thunder, and lightning. Naturally, this astounded the ninth-century public.


Muslim potters then introduced the art of stylish dining with a variety of ceramics and glazes. Malaga and Valencia were major centres of the industry, and Muslims revolutionised the production and decoration of pottery through their use of lustre glaze, which you can read more about in the making of pottery of the Market chapter.
Both Valencian and Malagan potters exported their wares to Christian populated regions like northern Spain and southern France and as far east as Italy. Here, Malagan potters were thought to have laid the foundations of the famous Majolica ware, which went on to dominate the Italian ceramic industry.

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