A Pleasant Peasant's Dish: Asida
By: Menal Elmaliki / Arab America Contributing Writer
Asida or Aseeda comes from the Arabic root, عصد (asad), which means to ‘twist it’. Aseed is made by kneading the dough in a pot over high heat. It requires extra arm strength and muscle to be able to twist the Asida into the perfect consistency and shape. When making aseed one must also be quick, one small mistake and the aseed will become a hardened glob. “It is a high energy, high carbohydrate dish, with the base ingredients being flour, water, and salt.”
Asida is different in each country, taking on many forms and variations. The commonality is its foundation, a dish made of flour and water, and traditionally eaten with two fingers. Depending on the region, Asida is also shaped differently. A dish of peasant origins, it was an essential meal to the Bedouin tribes. This simple dish, with very few ingredients mirrored the nomadic lifestyle of Bedouins, which allowed them to survive from the harsh climates of the desert.
Historically, Asida dates to the Bedouin tribes of North Africa, c. 1465–1550. The recipe was reported in the 10-century cookbook Kitab al-Ṭabīḫ written by Ibn Sayyar al Warraq. Warraq, originally from Bagdad, had compiled a cookbook containing over 600 recipes. French scholar and historian Maxime Rodinson, claims that aseed dates back to pre-Islamic Bedouin tribes.
Another historian by the name of Clifford Wright(Mediterranean food historian), describes his earliest account of asida making in the Magrebi region,
Aseed is not only made in Yemen but parts of eastern Africa, countries across the red sea, such as Sudan, Libya, and Tunisia, Algeria, and Ethiopia. Aseed is made differently in each region; some is savory while others are sweet.
In Libya, this breakfast dish is called Aseeda. It is more of a sweet concoction, rather than a savory one, and it is made with either honey and butter/ ghee, or olive oil and date molasses. In the west of Libya, Aseeda is shaped like a dome yet in the east will vary in form. It takes the shape of a dome; however, has a hole in the middle, quintessentially, a volcano mold.
It is a customary tradition that Aseeda is made on special occasions like for example Eid, or the birthday of the Prophet (SAW). It is a dish that brings the entire family together in celebration.
It is a dish meant to be shared and eaten by many. The shape and taste of Aseed depends on which region you’re from. In some parts of Yemen, Aseed can either be sweet or savory. Unlike North Africa and Eastern African countries, in Yemen, Asida is called Aseed and it is not eaten for breakfast, but rather for lunch and dinner and also for dessert.
The most interesting aspect of Aseed is the shape it is molded into. After water and flour are mixed in a pot it is molded to either look like a volcano or a tiny hill, and it is then topped with the maraq (soup that can be lamb or chicken). It is usually served with a meat broth or soul and embellished with hilba, which is a fennel seed condiment, and sahawiq, which is a spicy Yemeni salsa which can be either reddish or greenish.
Similar to Libya, Asida is usually eaten during religious ceremonies such as child naming ceremonies and is recommended to women who are in labor. In some households, Aseeda is eaten every Sunday morning for breakfast. The sweet Asida is made with honey and butter, while the savory one is served with potato and an onion sauce. It can also be served/ spiced with harissa, which is Tunisia’s famous chili pepper paste, a staple in Tunisian cooking/ cuisine.
Like Yemen, Asida is eaten savory and like Ethiopia it has a more porridge like consistency. It is usually made of corn flour, yogurt, and dried meat. This dish is especially popular during the month of Ramadan for its nutritional value. It is a super food, containing the calcium, protein, and vitamins needed after a day of fasting.
In Sudan, there are two variations of the Asida, Telqiya and Niaimiya. Telqiya is the traditional way of Asida and is made of dried meat, whereas Niaimiya is a more modern version of Asida that is a blend of dried onions, minced beef, sauce, herbs and red pepper paste.
In Southern South Sudan, Aseeda takes on a different look, a more sweeter look. It’s consistency is less like porridge and more like a dumpling. It is made with essentially the same ingredients, but it is topped with salt, melted butter or ghee, and honey.
In Ethiopia, Aseed is referred to as Genfo or Marca. It is a simple barley or wheat porridge that is eaten for breakfast. It is usually eaten for breakfast and is made with ghee, and filled with a mixture of niter kibbeh or oil, and berbere, which is an Ethiopian spice. Ethiopia has another version that is served with yogurt or milk with a dash of cardamon which is sometimes added to bring about a special kick/ or to dress up the dish.
A version of genfo is also eaten in Eritrea and Ghana; however, it is called fufu.
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