There you are, waking up with the sun searing your retinas and the blood vessels in your head pounding some Satanic drum beat. Your mouth feels like a desert, there’s some kind of tacky film over your front teeth, and your intestines are churning something truly putrid.
It’s 10th-century Baghdad and you’re due in the caliph’s court—and you’re hungover as hell.
All there is to do is to pull on your weird puffy pantaloons, don your imported Persian turban, and slog through it without chundering in the middle a poetry recitation. That is, unless you’re friends with a dude named Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq.
Historians claim that al-Warraq’s 10th-century Kitab al-Tabikh, AKA “The Cooking Book,” is the oldest cookbook in the Arab world. (For all you medieval caliphate cookery aficionados, that’s not to be confused with Muhammad bin Hasan al-Baghdadi’s Kitab al-Tabikh, written in 1226.) Al-Warraq’s book, helpfully and brilliantly translated into English by scholar Nawal Nasrallah, is a massive compilation of more than 600 recipes from the Abbasid period, many of which are totally unrecognizable as Middle Eastern cuisine today.
As did many cookbook authors at the time, al-Warraq also included medicinal advice and preparations for drugs and tonics, because feeding the body wasn’t just about fending off hunger. Which brings us to hangovers, because everyone loves to party.
Just as it isn’t now, consuming alcohol wasn’t exactly legit for Muslims in medieval Baghdad. It’s forbidden by the Qur’an, of course and, according to Nasrallah, Rashidun caliph Umar Ibn al-Khattab called it “the wine of India,” declaring that it was only consumed by infidels.
But that didn’t stop those who enjoyed a bit of drunken fun from widely imbibing among themselves, and what they drank was certainly potent. One of al-Warraq’s recipes for a wine known as dadhi calls for mixing 50 pounds of date syrup with five pounds each of honey and hop cones, then mixing it all up with water and putting it in containers sealed with mud for two months. After that point, al-Warraq says, “the wine will be splendid.”
But if hoppy date wine isn’t enough to get you lit, there’s also evidence that hop cones were sometimes replaced an intoxicating plant that Nasrallah says was “undoubtedly…marijuana.” That wine was known as sharab al-fusaq—”the wine of evildoers.”
Al-Warraq wasn’t trying to destroy the livers of the Abbasid caliphate per se—he was simply exhaustive in compiling the food and drink of his day. He also included a number of recipes for fuqqa’, or alcohol-free beer made from barley, and wines used as medicine. One was a mead made from 20 pounds of honey, with a handful of nutmeg, cloves, black cardamom, fennel, ginger, and zedoary (white turmeric), plus some saffron and musk thrown in at the end for good measure. “With God’s permission,” writes al-Warraq, “it is a good cure for cold kidneys, kidney pain, and a cold stomach.”
But that’s hardly what you’re drinking on a Friday night. You’re on a high-octane date-and-weed wine bender, double-fisting a goblet and chunks of vinegar-braised gazelle.
Now, if you want to prevent a hangover, al-Warraq prescribes lemonade to be drunk with your alcoholic beverage of choice. Any old lemonade should do, but one made with quince juice or mint is nice, too, as it myrtle tea. But what do you do to save yourself from post-party trauma the morning after?
First, says al-Warraq, drink water. Don’t quaff one giant gulp, but rather take “several small doses and breathe deeply between one dose and the other.” Then al-Warraq recommends a dish known as kishkiyya, which calls for three pounds of meat, a half pound of chopped onion, herbs, some chickpeas, galangal, olive oil, and seasonal vegetables—al-Warraq was a regular Alice Waters—all made into a hot stew with some water. To that, you add kishk (a dried paste of wheat and yogurt that’s still used in parts of the Middle East) plus cumin, cloves, cassia, and an aromatic plant called spikenard, and you should be set straight. A medieval poet wrote of kishkiyya: “Having eaten it intoxicated one will be all anew and the hangover will renew itself.”
Recipes and quotations via Annals of the Caliph’s Kitchens by Nawal Nasrallah.