The following is a guest post for the Feast Your Eyes series by Arden Alexander, Cataloging Specialist, Prints and Photographs Division.
Numerous photographs in the Prints and Photographs Division’s over 75,000 historical images of the Middle East show the people of the region harvesting, preparing, cooking, selling and enjoying food and drink. Included in these are images which document Middle Eastern food traditions brought by immigrants to the United States.
This photograph shows men gathered at a restaurant in what was known as “Little Syria” in lower Manhattan, New York City, around 1910-1915. The residents of this neighborhood were mostly Arab Americans, including Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians from areas which were part of the Ottoman Empire at the time.
Pans of food rest on a long counter where employees wearing aprons serve the hungry customers. The first three pans in the front look like baklava, a multi-layered pastry. Many variants of this treat exist, but baklava is usually made with thin sheets of buttered dough (called filo or phyllo) which alternate with layers of chopped walnuts, pistachios or other nuts. A cold sugar or honey syrup, sometimes flavored with rosewater or lemon juice, is poured over the hot pastry after it comes out of the oven. This delicious dessert is common throughout the Middle East and other places including Greece, Armenia and Central Asia.
Here is a sample of more Middle East food images, taken in the early to mid-20th century:
- Explore more Middle East food photographs in the G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog. A sample search in the Matson Collection for “threshing” reveals several dozen images.
- Another collection with images of the food of the Middle East from the Prints and Photographs Division is the Visual materials from the papers of John D. Whiting.
- View these webcasts about Middle East food from the Library of Congress African & Middle Eastern Division: