Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollectionsMedicine

FORKLORE

Pasta a la Alexander

July 25, 1996|CHARLES PERRY

Perhaps because they felt themselves to be on the outskirts of civilization, medieval Turkish nomads were thrilled to learn that Alexander the Great had done some conquering in Central Asia. Although Alexander never actually reached the steppes where the medieval Turks roamed, they started telling legends about him. One that is still current among the Turkish-speaking Uighurs of western China concerns food:

"When His Majesty King Alexander--peace be upon him--had sailed off in order to make his sea-voyage of three years, all the people became ill some time later. His Majesty King Alexander--peace be upon him--gave orders to his doctors: 'Prepare a medicine! This medicine must be a remedy for all the sick people! It should also be good to eat and drink!' " The 11 "doctors"--who include Aristotle, Socrates and Plato--proceed to invent pilaf.

Nine hundred years ago, a writer named Mahmud of Kashgar recorded a medieval version of the same story. In this one, Alexander's party was returning from the Land of Darkness, where the sun goes when it sets and where the Fountain of Youth is located, when they faced starvation: "They said to him, 'Bizni tutma ach,' that is, 'Do not keep us here hungry, let us go so that we can return to our homes.' He consulted the wise men on that subject so that this food might be produced, tutmach."

Tutmach was the word for noodles, which held the same place in medieval Turkic hospitality that pilaf has today. Every detail of the story has changed since the 11th century except the wonderful idea of Alexander the Great as a patron of recipe development.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|