View Chapters

Book: Delights from the Garden of Eden

Chapter: That Little Street in Baghdad

DOI: 10.1558/equinox.33874


At the crossroads of several eastern and western

cultures, Iraq had the ideal ingredients for a multiracial

society. Nowhere was this pluralistic culture more

evident than in the little street in Baghdad where I

grew up. It was a middle-class neighborhood, with

eucalyptus trees lining both sides of the street. In

springtime the air would be filled with the intoxicating

fragrance of the blossom on the citrus trees that were

planted all along the fences. Those shady places were

like magnets for the local children, where we used to

play, fight, reconcile, tell stories, and chatter about

everything and anything. As lunchtime approached, the

main meal of the day, we started playing our guessing

game as the welcome aromas of food drifted out of

the simmering pots and meandered along our street.

We would sniff these floating aromas and guess

whose mother was cooking what that day. Although

the dominant smell would be that of stew and rice,

which were cooked practically every day, the guessing

would still be intriguing, for there were so many kinds

of stews to identify. And almost always there would be the distinctive aroma of a special dish, and we knew

that one of us would soon be called by his or her mother

to distribute samples of that dish for the neighbors. As

the custom had always been, it was not thought right

to send back the neighbor’s dish empty, so it would be

returned with a comparable dish that was equally, if

not more, delicious. Thus, our guessing game was kept

alive by this exchange of hospitality, and from those

little dishes coming and going, we came to learn a lot

about people from all walks of life, and of diverse ethnic

and religious backgrounds. Such diversity was not a

unique situation in the city of Baghdad, which across

the centuries became a melting-pot of sorts for all

these groups.

Chapter Contributors

  • Nawal Nasrallah ( - book-auth-449)