Scents and Flavors

Scents and Flavors

A Syrian Cookbook

352 Pages

May 2017

ISBN: 9781479856282

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Charles Perry is a culinary historian who has written widely on cooking in the medieval Middle East. He has published and consulted widely on Middle Eastern food history, and has translated a number of pre-modern texts, including A Baghdad Cookery Book: The Book of Dishes.

Collecting 635 meticulous recipes, Scents and Flavors invites us to savor an inventive cuisine that elevates simple ingredients by combining the sundry aromas of herbs, spices, fruits, and flower essences.

This popular 13th-century Syrian cookbook is an ode to what its anonymous author calls the “greater part of the pleasure of this life,” namely the consumption of food and drink, as well as the fragrances that garnish the meals and the diners who enjoy them.

Organized like a meal, it opens with appetizers and juices and proceeds through main courses, side dishes, and desserts, including such confections as candies based on the higher densities of sugar syrup—an innovation unique to the medieval Arab world. Apricot beverages, stuffed eggplant, pistachio chicken, coriander stew, melon crepes, and almond pudding are seasoned with nutmeg, rose, cloves, saffron, and the occasional rare ingredient like ambergris to delight and surprise the banqueter. Bookended by chapters on preparatory perfumes, incenses, medicinal oils, antiperspirant powders, and after-meal hand soaps, this comprehensive culinary journey is a feast for all the senses.

With the exception of four extant Babylonian and Roman specimens, cookbooks did not appear on the world literary scene until Arabic speakers began compiling their recipe collections in the tenth century, peaking in popularity in the thirteenth century. Scents and Flavors quickly became a bestseller during this golden age of cookbooks, and remains today a delectable read for epicures and cultural historians alike.


  • "We can learn a lot from an old cookbook.And the recent release ofScents and Flavors, a new translation from NYU Presss Library of Arabic Literature, provides a glimpse of social history that feels particularly timely."

  • "The book will interest epicures and cultural historians alike."

    Islamic Horizons

  • "An extraordinary achievement, a brilliant translation of a very important work by an author who really understands cooking, and a valuable addition to our understanding of Middle Eastern culture and gastronomy."

    Claudia Roden, author of The New Book of Middle Eastern Food

  • "An extensive glossary, plus facing pages of the original Arabic text, make this a desirable reference work for scholars."


  • "Hopefully, this cookbook can be made part of many library collections around the world, accessible to many Syrian chefs and food-lovers, wherever they may be."