I am wondering whether names of dishes are generally more prone to change when a power or language shift occurs in a society?

Particularly, I am thinking of the Egyptian cuisine and the current names of various dishes.

  • It does seem that culinary lexicon works differently than many other domains, but we can make a good argument that it is less prone to change. Of which dish names are you thinking? Jun 22, 2018 at 9:23
  • The iconic Egyptian ful - both the dish and the name - is pre-Arabic (I think pul is mentioned in the Talmud). This is very typical, substrate in most languages is those local things for which there was no obvious translation. On the other hand there are those concepts like tomatoes, peppers, maize or turkeys for which there was no word in the Old World, so those came from superstrate or adstrate. Egyptian names could also have been superficially Arabised, by using a cognate or calque or inventing a cognate by applying the usual sound shifts, all of which would be hard to detect now. Jun 22, 2018 at 9:23
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    Nothing is more local in any language or culture than food terms. They vary greatly, even in areas where there is a common language and even dialect. Every locality has its special dish, its special dessert, its special snack or drink, and its special name for them. Don't expect any consistency.
    – jlawler
    Jun 22, 2018 at 19:56
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    Whereas the dishes themselves, I think, have more longevity than much in human affairs, and are perhaps more likely to be passed on to children even than beliefs. ;) Jun 23, 2018 at 14:10
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    @jlawler. This is the other side of the phenomenon that I described in my answer. It is about the difference between aristocratic and plebeian food culture.
    – fdb
    Jun 23, 2018 at 18:47

1 Answer 1


A lot of the names of Egyptian dishes (as opposed to raw materials like fūl) are borrowed from Ottoman Turkish and are found also in Levantine Arabic, Greek, Serbian and other languages. This is because the upper classes throughout the Ottoman Empire ate the foods served at the Ottoman court in Constantinople. You can start (literally) with meze < Turkish < Persian maza "taste".

  • Is it certain that it came via Ottoman? Because of all the direct contact, there are plenty of Iranic words in East Med cuisine with no Istanbul Turkish cognate to my knowledge (inbid, filfil), maybe in literary Ottoman but nothing that spread to the Balkans. Many of the words in this set are themselves Semitic (araq, kabab, lahmajun) and in those cases they look different than those the Balkan versions, some have no traditional cognate in Turkish at all (hommos, mutabbal, falafel, kibbe). The Ottoman explanation seems circuitous, except for the new words (biber, shawarma). Jun 22, 2018 at 13:48
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    @A.M.Bittlingmayer. We have documentary evidence for the fact that Ottoman court cuisine was emulated by the provincial elite, e.g. cookery books, in the same way that the European aristocracy emulated French haute cuisine, the food of the court in Paris.
    – fdb
    Jun 23, 2018 at 13:52
  • @fdb That evidence regarding the Ottoman court would classify your answer as complete, thereby it would be the accepted answer. Can you give some examples?
    – Midas
    Jun 24, 2018 at 11:23
  • Some information here: home.earthlink.net/~al-tabbakhah/Misc_ME_Food/…
    – fdb
    Jun 24, 2018 at 11:50

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