"I have never enjoyed anything as much as three things: eatingflesh, riding on flesh and rubbing flesh against flesh," wrote IbnZuqqa, around the year 816. Eating flesh (and other goodies) is thesubject of this rich little book about images of food in classicalArabic literature. The result is as dense and delicious as one ofthe rice puddings stuffed with dates which appear so often in itspages.

Scholar Geert Jan Van Gelder ably guides the reader through carefulanalysis of poetry and other classical Arabic texts on food. Among thetopics covered are the relation of food to sex, ethical life and food inthe afterlife. In Islam, good food is one of God's greatest blessings. Abstaining from food, as during Ramadan, is a way of deepening one's enjoyment of food, rather than an ascetic effort to banish hunger and the need for food.

Though sometimes a little too academic, thebook is packed with tasty details, like Islamic theologian al_Ghazali'sdescription of a culinary heaven: "You will look at the fowl inParadise; as soon as you desire it, it falls down, roasted, infront of you." What gourmand could resist?