The rose is more than a rose in this part of the world. The name of the rose, simply “gül” in Turkish, was once used to refer to all flowers, perhaps because it was the ultimate flower, perfect in shape, color, smell and moreover, in taste. Culinary use of the rose dates back to ancient times, but it is the Ottoman, Iranian and Indian cookery that make the most of the taste of the rose.
Rose-water or rose petals are used primarily in sweets and drinks, like the gulab-jamun of India, or rose-flavored sherbets and ices of Persian and Ottoman palace cuisines. Milk puddings, aşure and zerde always have a good splash of rose-water in Turkish cuisine, and the ultimate rose dessert is güllaç, as the name implies, it means “rosy dish”. In olden times, it was also used in savory dishes like meat stews, but this remains a thing of the past now, especially in Turkey. In Iran some salty dishes still have a touch of rose, one delightful example being Iranian cacık, the refreshing cucumber-yoghurt cold soup.
Apart from being a culinary delight, rose is also a remedy. Ottoman medicine praised rose for its curative properties. Ottoman medicine was based on a unique blend of the teachings of Hippocrates, father of western medicine and Avicenna (or Ibn Sina), his eastern equivalent for the Islamic world, who studied the Indian Ayurvedic system, Islamic practice and the ancient Greek medicine. According to Ottoman belief, rose is cool and refreshing; it smells sweet and lifts the spirits up.
Rose is a strong anti-depressant, that’s why rose-water is sprinkled on guests paying their condolences in the funeral house. Rose gives you a sense of light-hearted wellbeing, and that may be the sole reason why we all have a lofty mood when we hear “La Vie en Rose” playing. We may want to forget all our sorrows and heart-broken memories, but rose is also about remembrance. Rose oil is extremely good for memory – that used to be the best kept secret of Muslim imams. Dropping a few drops of rose-oil in between the sheets of Quran: rose aroma helps reciting the whole holy book from memory.
Rose may be symbolic for the Muslim faith, but it is also about the art of drinking. Persian poet Omar Khayyam wrote so profoundly of rose and grape and wine, and strangely rose was the secret ingredient of western drinks, like punches and juleps. The initial punch was actually “penç,” meaning five in Persian, and consisted of five ingredients, rose-water, grape juice (or wine), lemon juice, sugar and ice. It was taken on by crusaders and later travelled all the way to the Americas by the Portuguese sailors, just like julep, having its name from rose-water güllab (or gulab, culab). Eventually the taste of the rose faded away, but its name prevailed.
Things are what they are. In the case of a rose it is only a flower, but it is also about taste and smell; about forgetting and remembering.
As Gertrude Stein has written:
“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose… but a very tasty rose!”
Article by: Aylin Öney Tan