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Cumin, Camels, and Caravans: A Spice Odyssey

(California Studies in Food and Culture #45)

3.75  ·  Rating details ·  88 ratings  ·  14 reviews
Gary Paul Nabhan takes the reader on a vivid and far-ranging journey across time and space in this fascinating look at the relationship between the spice trade and culinary imperialism. Drawing on his own family’s history as spice traders, as well as travel narratives, historical accounts, and an ethnobotanical exploration of spices and their uses, Nabhan describes the cri ...more
Hardcover, 332 pages
Published April 7th 2014 by University of California Press (first published November 15th 2013)
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Average rating 3.75  · 
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Apr 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the history of spices and the spice trade
Wow. Wow. Wow. What a revelation.

And here I thought that fusion cuisine is relatively new.

We were agape almost constantly as we read, going from a Medieval recipe for Dates Kneaded with Locusts and Spices with the instructions to "find a swarm of locusts" and "store in a saddlebag of a camel leather", to discovering that a Mongolian emperor had a Hui-Muslim physician who had travelled widely "in Central Asia, Asia Minor, and the Arabian Peninsula", to learning that a "traditional" Mexican mole i
Jacob Blandford
Apr 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
This book lacked specificity and was much more a generalized history of spices historically associated with large regions. I’m most criticalof the bias and assumptions the author has infused throughout the book. It was a fine read during a time when I’m social distancing but I wouldn’t prioritize this book on your reading list.
Feb 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love it lots of info and its and easy read. Love all the history great book
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at the early multicultural history of the spice trade. This book raises important questions about globalization, most notably:

“Of the more than 6800 linguistically encoded cultural world views that have emerged on this planet, why have only a handful enabled and driven the trajectory of the worldwide spice trade? Or, why have the three monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam played such dominant roles in cultural, ecological, and culinary imperialism? I have no
Leda Meredith
Aug 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Food, history, botany, ambition, lust, money, religion, culture...this is a fascinating look, through the history of the spice trade, at the ancient trend towards today's globalized commerce. The only reason I didn't give this book five stars instead of four is that it is SO thoroughly researched that scholarly historical detail sometimes wins out over it being an engaging read. But most often it IS a wonderful read: entertaining, informative, and will leave you with a new way of understanding h ...more
Nov 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Well written, in depth history of the spice trade (and global trade and exploration) both before and during Europe's Age of Discovery. Points out the contributions of the Islamic world to both, often far before their European counterparts. Fascinating journey, both historical and personal on the part of the author globetrotting from one continent to another in search of the traces of the once most powerful economic driver on the planet. Challenges assumptions about European dominance of the land ...more
Apr 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
I recieved this book for free through a Goodreads First Reader Giveaway.

The breadth of the book is fascinating, much like the reach of spices today. I found the combination of personal experience and accessible history of the spice trade to be a satisfying one. I enjoyed reading the many recipes, though I question how feasible some of them are for the average cook to make. Overall, I very much enjoyed the colorful, flavorful journey in the roots of globalization, and one man's person ancestry.
Nov 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is highly informative and fascinating study of the origin, development, and globalization of the spice trade and how the semitic speakers of the desert became masters of the craft. I would have liked there to be more maps which placed ancient trade centers and there was a proliferation of names that were hard to keep straight. That said, it is a book well worth reading, written by a man who loves his subject and who, it turns out, has a family interest in the trade.
Jan 06, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ann
Fascinating book. I wish there had been more maps and the ones included had been more thorough. Also sometimes the level of detail gets overwhelming - and I would have loved a bit more placing of the specific details in a larger context. Dates also get confusing, a lot of moving around. But overall the most thorough and informative account of the origins of not just the spice trade but of globalization I've read. Definitely worth a read! ...more
Jan 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food, memoir, cooking, history
This book is excellent. Without becoming overly dry, Nabhan traces the history of the spice trade from 3000BCE to the present; and from Arabian tribes, the Phoenicians, the Turks, the Romans, Greeks, Jews, Syrians, Yemini, Egyptian among others who developed both the spices and the trade routes to transport them.

It is truly fascinating.
Apr 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food, history
Another amazing journey across the globe and through history with Mr. Nabhan! My appetite is whetted for further explorations through recipes, bibliographic notes, and other monographs in California Studies in Food and Culture from University of California Press.
Dec 06, 2016 rated it liked it
An interesting, but dense read. I learned a lot.
Charlie Miksicek
Nov 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Got me combing my local markets looking for exotic spices and fragrances and started a north African to central Asian cooking jag.
Aalap Chikhalikar
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating research into the history of the spice trade. A bit too focused on the Middle east but an excellent read
Shawn Levy
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Feb 23, 2015
Joshua Lewin
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Dec 16, 2014
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Josh Ruck
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Joshua Rodriguez
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Deborah Flores
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Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-celebrated nature writer, seed saver, conservation biologist and sustainable agriculture activist who has been called "the father of the local food movement" by Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, Carleton College and Unity College. Gary is also an orchard-keeper, wild forager and Ecumenical Franciscan brother in his hometown of Patagonia, Arizona near the Mexica ...more

Other books in the series

California Studies in Food and Culture (1 - 10 of 60 books)
  • Dangerous Tastes: The Story of Spices
  • Eating Right in the Renaissance (California Studies in Food and Culture, 2)
  • Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health
  • Camembert: A  National Myth (California Studies in Food and Culture, 4)
  • Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism
  • Eating Apes (California Studies in Food and Culture, 6)
  • Revolution at the Table: The Transformation of the American Diet (California Studies in Food and Culture, 7)
  • Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America (California Studies in Food and Culture, 8)
  • Zinfandel: A History of a Grape and Its Wine
  • Tsukiji: The Fish Market at the Center of the World

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