Eating in Jerusalem in the Medieval Crusader Period
In 1099, the first Crusader knights arrived in the Holy Land, with the goal of liberating the Holy Sepulchre from Muslim rule. As part of their defensive measures to protect Jerusalem, and to make the enemy's advance more difficult, the Muslims destroyed all the agricultural infrastructure around the city. After conquering the region, the Crusaders were forced to resettle the area and build farms around the city to supply food and wine to the population who rapidly resettled there.
There is no doubt at all, however, that the Muslims had the upper hand in culinary matters. The Crusaders found a culinary paradise here, a remnant of the glorious Arab heritage of the courts of the caliphs in Baghdad and of the Persian kings. Arab and Egyptian cooks quickly found their place in the kitchens of Frankish high society in Jerusalem, Ramle and Acre, teaching the knights some of the pleasures of the East. The high gastronomic culture was enriched by an elaborate tradition of music, dancing and literature accompanying the meal, which turned it into a true banquet.
The Europeans were very impressed by the local products: ananas, figs, sabra fruit, sugar cane, citrus fruit, wheat, and superb grapes. The wines of the Judean hills were famous for their excellent quality. In summer, wine was chilled in snow brought in straw-covered carts from the distant mountains of Lebanon. Snow was also used to cool fruit juices, the sherbets which were early predecessors of today's sorbets.
The Franks also adopted the eastern custom of using many spices, often to excess, as a sign of their great wealth. Commonly used spices included sumac, mustard, saffron, cloves, cinnamon, rosemary, and coconut, licorice root and lotus fruits were also used, bearing witness to the trade routes running between East and West. The consumption of ready-cooked food was also common, bought in one of Jerusalem's many markets.
Indeed, one of the most prominent architectural features of Crusader Jerusalem is the complex of markets which still serve the merchants of the Old City. The old chicken market in David Street is now used as a fruits and vegetables market, while the modern Butchers' Street was originally intended for fresh produce and was called the "Street of Herbs." The most famous of all was the central market, known as the "Street of Bad Cookery" (Malquisinat), whose merchants specialized in the production and supply of cooked food for the numerous pilgrims who flocked to the city.
Source: The Jerusalem Mosaic. Copyright 1995 Hebrew University of Jerusalem -- All Rights Reserved.