"Lunch was in the qaa, at an oval table cast from marble dust and inlaid along the top with swirling Persian-blue tesserae arranged as a peacock displaying its tail. Matching benches curved down both sides of the table. Only Lady Nafisa had a chair. (...)
"Food as politics and food as blackmail: both theories had been regurgitated more times than anyone could remember. But food as an elaborate dance, somewhere between etiquette and preening display, that was new to Raf. Though not to Isk, where the conspicuous consumption — not of rich or rare ingredients, though both were there — but of time itself was as ancient as the elaborate laws governing hospitality.
"Time given was what was on display.
"In Isk, just as in Tunis, Marrakesh or Fez, ceremonial food required preparation: the more preparation, the greater the respect being offered to guests. Tradition also demanded that the ingredients be divided into small portions, wrapped in filo or hidden beneath pastry in pies, rolled in crushed nuts or stuffed into vegetables that had been lovingly hollowed out or cored. Food bought at a stall or fast-food joint was different. Nobody expected Burger King to be anything other than cheap, swift and anodyne. But in the home, it was almost an insult to offer guests food that looked as if preparing it took anything less than total commitment.
"Served with the roast kid was a silver-edged clay bowl of saffron rice, plus a dish of red couscous, a chicken tajine where the juices had been sweetened with honey and reduced to a sticky syrup, fried red mullet with marjoram and fresh matlou bread, which Lady Nafisa asked Raf to break and portion out in order of precedence. Hani got her chunk last, being both female and a child."
Isk. Welcome to El Iskandryia. And watch your back!
In a culinary passage which takes a tale of murder, hatred and love, and multi-layered intrigue on apace, Jon Courtenay Grimwood presents but a few facets of the free city on Egypt's Mediterranean shore, built and rebuilt "on the rubble of its own history".
"Venerable and elegant, with a taste for fresh blood," the sweltering metropolis in an autonomous province of the Ottoman Empire is as vital a character in 'Pashazade: The First Arabesk'' as any of the people who inhabit its numerous worlds.
Before he's cast into the seething snake-pit of Iskandryian affairs when his Aunt Nafisa springs him from a Seattle prison, ZeeZee has no idea that he was fathered by a man of prominence and power. Awaiting him are a potential wife, a murder riddle, sudden violence — and a new identity and social standing as Ashraf Bey.