The word "gazpacho" is used colloquially by some in the south of
Spain to mean roughly the same as hotchpotch, mishmash, or
Those are all pretty good descriptions of the dish gazpacho, the
famed cold soup from Andalusia. There is no single recipe for
gazpacho, but the classic ingredients include bread, tomatoes,
garlic, green peppers, olive oil, vinegar, salt, and often onion and
Almost anything goes. With endless variations, choices are
personal, and more often than not reflect what is found in the
refrigerator. "If you have more or less of the ingredients, and you
grind them up," my mother-in-law in Barcelona told me, "you can call
In one Andalusian village, people may make it with cucumber, in
another with lemon and no vinegar. Another may use fresh mint, while
the next uses mint as well as hard-boiled egg, vinegar, and rabbit
Perhaps the only two obligatory ingredients are oil and bread.
But even bread can be omitted if you want to make more of a drinking
gazpacho. My wife, Eva, and I sometimes make a big breadless batch
in the summer and leave it in the refrigerator in pitchers to drink
from glasses like a hearty juice.
According to "Larousse Gastronomique," the authoritative culinary
encyclopedia, the word gazpacho comes from the Arabic meaning
"soaked bread." Not everyone, though, agrees with such
straightforward etymology. Food scholar Clifford Wright, in his
referential tome on the histories of Mediterranean cuisines, "A
Mediterranean Feast," says that etymologists believe it comes from
the word "carpa," meaning "residue" or "fragments" and borrowed from
the Mozarabs (Christians who lived under Muslim rule in Spain). It
may even be a pre-Roman Iberian word modified by Arabic.
The history of the word can be debated, but the roots of the dish
are clearly Arabic.
Arabs invaded Spain in 711, and within 10 years controlled most
of the peninsula. Muslim Spain was called al-Andalus, an entity that
shrank southward over 800 years as the Moors (as the Muslim invaders
were called) gradually lost more and more territory. The last
Moorish city, Granada, was finally taken, and the long Christian
Reconquista complete, in January of that auspicious year 1492.
Al-Andalus was the most sophisticated place in medieval Europe,
rival to Constantinople and Baghdad, a meeting point between the
Orient and Occident, where important advances in mathematics,
medicine, and agriculture took place, and great works of art and
philosophy were created.
The lasting influence on the culture of Spain, especially in
Andalusia, where the Moors ruled longest, runs deep in the
architecture, art, poetry, music, dance, language, design, and of
The Arabs instituted the combining of sweet and savory (say, meat
dishes with raisins and pine nuts) and the pounding of ingredients
to form pastes. They encouraged the use of spices and even defined
an order of eating in courses (ending with dessert) instead of
simply piling everything onto one plate. (This didn't catch on in
the central and eastern parts of the Islamic world. …