Rostam

rostam-330There are further stories of Shahnameh which mention the word khoresh one of which is a similarly macabre story to Zahak’s entitled Khaghan of China where the epic hero, Rostam, encounters Kafour, the evil ruler of the city of Bidad, and kills him. Kafour is said to eat nothing but children’s flesh made into khoresh. Kafour’s depth of depravity is demonstrated in what he chooses to eats. Following the Shahnameh chronologically, in the story of Bijan and Manijeh, there is a sumptuous feast where several types of khoresh are served, again without any further details as to their names or ingredients. In the same story, when Manijeh goes to see Rostam who is disguised as a wealthy merchant, she is given food to take back to Bijan, languishing in a well. The parcel includes a few dishes of khoresh, a roast chicken and some warm bread. Rostam hides his ring in the folds of the bread as a signal to Bijan that he has come to his rescue. Here, the nourishing quality of food to strengthen Bijan’s body is thus extended to his mental health in bringing him the hope of release from prison.

Further into the Book of Kings as stories begin to unfold references to food become even more nondescript to the extent that in the story of Twelve Rokhs, Ferdowsi simply suffices to say; ‘some edibles were brought together’. As always, wine takes centre stage in celebrations not food.
In the Haft Khan of Esfandiyar, the Seven Challenges of the hero Esfandiyar, when in the course of his last chalenge, he goes to Ro’in’s castle disguised as a travelling merchant he asks his host Arjasb’s permission to start a big fire on the ramparts under the pretext of a feast, to signal to his forces in the field to attack the castle. There we are told that he killed and roasted a few horses and a few lambs to feed his guests. This is an example of a rare reference to horse meat being eaten.

What the heroes ate when they were away from home was different. In line with the traditional heroic ways of life, they ate what they hunted which they roasted or grilled over an open fire. We can see one of the best examples of this in the story of Rostam and Sohhrab, when we see him hunt a wild ass (onager), grill and eat it. Earlier as an infant, Rostam is said to have been breastfed by ten wet nurses and as a toddler five carcasses were used to make his meals every day.

In the stories attributed to Alexandre the great, we go with him to strange places and meet people who eat the leaves of trees and the roots of vegetables, fish and even predatory animals.

One of the ingredients hardly mentioned in the list of food stuff in Shahnameh is fish. Maybe it is because Ferdowsi himself lived far away from the seas and the fish he could get was that caught in sweet water sources and rivers.

Because of the significance of Shahnameh and its place within Persian culture and heritage, it was interesting to dig deeper in the text to find out how food features in it. The wonderful combination reality and myth in the lives of its heroes reflect elements of everyday life of human beings mixed with the supernatural. The author has tried to find evidence to that end, not only by reading between the lines, but also by examining the way of life and culinary traditions at the time of the poet himself.

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