(32) Arab Hospitality. Arab Cookery. Arab Entertainment. Smoking.
In hospitality the Arabs of our time have in no degree degenerated from their former reputation, though Shomer, Nejd, Yemamah, and Hasa excel in this respect the other provinces. A strangers arrival is often the occasion of an amicable dispute among the wealthier inhabitants as to who shall have the privilege of receiving him; and though three days are often popularly spoken of as the limit of such entertainment, practice sets no precise bounds to its length; and an Arab host always carefully abstains from putting any question to his guest as to when he is going, or where. Indeed, if the guest be discreet and acceptable in his manners, he will soon find himself on the footing of one of the family; and even the women of the house will come in to sit and converse with him not less freely than they would with their own relations.
Arab cookery is of the simplest. Roughly-ground wheat cooked with butter; bread, in thin cakes, prepared on a heated iron plate or against the walls of an open oven; a few vegetables, generally of the leguminous kinds; boiled mutton or camels flesh, if the circumstances of the host allow of such luxuries; dates and fruits,-this is the menu of an ordinary meal. Roast meat, fried, stewed-in a word, anything but boiled-is rarely seen, such dishes exceeding the skill of the cooks, who, as a rule, are the women of the household. Rice is eaten in wealthy houses, and fish is common on the coasts. Among the Bedouins, millet-cakes, half-cooked in ashes, or a broth prepared from the gritty seeds of the "samh" (a species of Mesembry-anthemum), often take the place of bread; and their meat cookery is equally wretched. Game, such as venison, partridge, and hare, is served up on rare occasions. Camel meat is a favourite, but to a stranger a very insipid, dish, in southern Nejd, Yemamah, Hareek, and Aflaj. Spices are freely employed in town cookery; butter much too largely for a European taste.
After eating, the hands are always washed with soap, or some substitute for it, commonly the ashes of an alkaline plant. A covered censer with burning incense is then passed round, and each guest perfumes his hands, face, and sometimes his clothes; this censer serves also on first receptions, and whenever special honour is intended. In Yemen and Oman scented water often does duty for it. Coffee, without milk or sugar, but flavoured with an aromatic seed brought from India, is served to all. This, too, is done on the occasion of a first welcome, when the cups often make two or three successive rounds; but, in fact, coffee is made and drunk at any time, as frequently as the desire for it may suggest itself; and each time fresh grains are sifted, roasted, pounded, and boiled-a very laborious process, and one that requires in the better sort of establishment a special servant or slave for the work. Among the Bedouins the use of coffee is rare, though they are found of it when they can get it. Arabs in general make only one solid meal a-day-that of supper, soon after sunset; nor even then do they eat much, gluttony being rare among them, and even daintiness esteemed disgraceful. Wine, like other fermented drinks, is prohibited by the Koran, and is, in fact, very rarely to be met with, though the inhabitants of the mountains of Oman are said to indulge in it. On the coast spirits of the worst quality are sometimes procured; opium and hasheesh have also but few votaries in Arabia.
On the other hand, wherever Wahhabeeism has left freedom of action, tobacco-smoking prevails, the manner of smoking varying considerably, according to the district. Among the Bedouins and the poorer classes of the upland regions a short pipe of clay, called a "sebeel," red or black, is in vogue. The wealthier townsmen prefer long pipes with large open bowls; but the most frequent use is made of the water-pipe, or "narghileh," of which implement every form, kind, and dimension imaginable may be found in Arabia. The tobacco smoked is generally strong, and is either brought from the neighbourhood of Baghdad or grown in the country itself. The strongest quality is that of Oman; the leaf is broad and coarse, and retains its green colour even when dried; a few whiffs have been known to produce absolute stupor. The aversion of the Wahhabees to tobacco is well known; they entitle it "mukhsee," or "the shameful," and its use is punished with blows, as the public use of wine would be elsewhere.
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