That first night the Vizier took me to his home, a simple affair with no chairs or tables. His wife, a beautiful dark haired woman, cooked a spicy meal and we ate dates and figs in their garden before retiring for the night. The following morning the Vizier took me to the Imam’s palace. The polished floors reflected the early dawn light that swam into every room through large open windows. Tall, thick columns supported the high ceilings which kept the palace cool despite the soaring temperatures outside. Bright green potted plants adorned the corners of every room and the walls were painted with vivid and intricate coloured designs.
After leaving me to wait, the Vizier returned and led me to a small side room off of a large inner chamber. Sat across the room on overlapping rugs and cushions an old man sat cross legged. Looking up, the Imam waved us over and the Vizier led me to a patch on the rug and gestured me to sit down. Speaking in their own language the composed Imam soon darted his eyes towards me and then back to the Vizier. I didn’t blame him for not believing without tasting my food. I smiled but the Imam had already looked back to the Vizier. They spoke and by their temperament I could tell that the Vizier was not convincing his superior, but after a brief scuffle of words the Imam said just one word, “welcome”, and then waved us both out. I was led straight to the kitchen whereupon the Vizier explained that I was to familiarise myself with the equipment, half of which I had never seen before. After some questions about the utensils and the operation of certain ovens he led me to the markets.
I was so very excited, but when we turned the corner into the market proper the momentum of the place slammed into me. It was seething with people, livestock and foods of every shape and colour you could imagine. The Vizier instructed me and together we selected ingredients which the Imam preferred. As we went I asked about every strange vegetable and fruit I could find. But when we reached the spices I needed no instruction or explanations, I dabbed my finger into the first basket of powder I didn’t recognise and indulged myself.
Now, even then I considered my palette to be developed, but by all that is good in the world I swore then as I do now: I knew nothing until that day. The first bright yellow powder that I tried made my eyes water in the very instant that it made contact with my tongue. I glanced at the Vizier trying not to show my pain, but he, and the merchant behind the stall we were at were already laughing. A conciliatory slap on my shoulder made me cough and their laughter soared even further. Embarrassed, but consumed by curiosity, I continued with caution, and yet each time, even tasting sweet powders, I was crushed by the strength of flavour. It was a schooling like nothing else. I could have stayed in that market for days, but once the Vizier called me away I acceded, in pain, but happy.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey