Sunday, June 17, 2018

Love it or hate it, amba is here to stay

Introduced into Iraq from India by Jewish merchants, amba is now a staple of contemporary Israeli cuisine, claim Daniel Monterescu and Joe Hart in Haaretz (with thanks: Lisette)

A seemingly innocent, tangy condiment – one popular in Israeli, Indian and Iraqi cuisines, among others – encapsulates the story of how ethnic, class, cultural and physical boundaries are crossed in the Middle East, and beyond. You can love amba, you can hate it, but you definitely cannot ignore it or its potent smell, which stems from a mixture of fenugreek, vinegar, turmeric and mango ("amba," means mango in the Indian language of Marathi). 

 A jar of amba is now an indispensable condiment accompanying  many dishes

The origin of amba reflects tortuous foodways across the Indian Ocean. The common urban legend is that it was invented in the late 19th century by members of the Baghdadi-born Sassoon family of Bombay, whose discovery of the mango led them to send barrels of it, coated in vinegar, to Basra port, thus confirming its role in the story of the Jewish culinary diaspora, with roots in Iraq. 

Remaining persistent in form and ingredients over the years, amba took global leaps across diasporic communities, while assuming different meanings and uses in the process. Israelis will often tell you it is Indian, even though Mumbai’s Jewish community typically eat locally made chutneys and pickles instead. In the Arabian Gulf, in a manner that’s similar to the way many Indian cuisines use pickles, it is eaten with rice yet retains the name amba. 

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