Serving the Guest: A Sufi Cookbook
Essays | Recipes | Gallery

Ewer, Mosul, 1232.
Where is the Wine?

My grandfather was the Halveti Shaikh of Yanbolu, now in Bulgaria. The Shaikh's brother, my granduncle, one day found a stranger at his door and brought him inside, as God's guest. He ordered his servants to kill a lamb and roast the whole lamb for dinner. The guest sat down and my granduncle served him. That was an Ottoman custom, for the owner of the house himself to serve the guest, even if the guest is a penniless wanderer. My granduncle did not even know whether this man was a Muslim or a Jew or a Christian. It didn't matter.

With the beautiful roasted lamb placed in front of him, the guest said, "Ah, it is wonderful, but this lamb can't be eaten just like that." The host said, "What do you need?" "Ah, if one would have a nice bottle of wine." Imagine, this was the house of the brother of a Shaikh, and in Islam not only is drinking strictly against the law, but even to offer a drink is unlawful. But my uncle did not object. He went out of the house to get wine. It was night and he had to go to a nearby Bulgarian village. His own town was Islamic and there was no wine there. He got on his horse to leave. Imagine now, here was a Turk, a Muslim and a Shaikh's brother going to buy wine from the Bulgarians in the middle of the night. That is the value of a guest.

Dish, Iznik, 17th century.

As my uncle was leaving, the guest came to the door and shouted out to him, "And let it be good, old wine!" So he went, embarrassed, and brought some wine from the neighboring village. When he returned the guest was gone. But the roasted lamb had come alive and was walking on the table, and there were pots of vinegar which had turned into thick, boiling honey, bubbling to the top, but not spilling over.