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Jun 29, 2000 10:35 AM

Food & History & Language

  • s

It's interesting to see the same word used for meatballs from Greece to India: Kofte (or some other variation). My guess is Alexander the Great had something to with it. Does anybody know anything more about this, such as where the word originated?

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  1. I wish someone who knows something would respond to your posting, Sean. I was just thinking about the history of meatballs, having had albondigas (Mexican meatball soup) for lunch today. I figured the Spanish must have learned about meatballs from the arabs (most words in Spanish--and English for that matter--that begin with "al" come from arabic). But clearly this word is not at all related to "kefta."

    Still, I would be more inclined to think that "kefta" comes from arabic or turkish ("kebab" is turkish for example). If it were originally Greek, one would think that the word would have spread from Greek to Latin--after all, the Greeks taught the Romans a lot about dining.

    Please, is there anyone out there who really KNOWS anything factual about all this? Help!

    1 Reply
    1. re: e.d.

      I went back to KT Achaya's "Indian Food, A Historical Companion" and this is what I found - The majority of the Sushrutha Samita, basically a medical handbook, dates from around 3rd-4th cent.AD (pp78). It describes meat preparations recogniseable as kofta or kebab, but the word used to describe this is the indiginous "pishtha" (pp54). Alexander entered the subcontinent in May 327 BC. I don't know if classical Greek had "kebab" or "kefte" to describe these dishes at that time (maybe someone else can answer?), but my assumption is if Greeks had introduced the dish, its descriptive term would bear some resemblance even after assimilation. My vote is for the influence of the Turk/Afghan Sultanates in India and the Ottoman Empire on Greece for the spread of the term.