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Zahle – the capital of mezze and arak


A Jew in Lebanon
Claudia Roden Writer
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We went to a wedding party. It was in a field, in a countryside near Baalbek. And I went with both of them, because they said can they bring a friend. Of course, everybody always said, 'Bring everybody'. And so, we went there, and we visited Baalbek which was wonderful. It's actually also near the Syrian border there. And it was a Hezbollah stronghold. And it was strange because Sheikh Yassin had just been assassinated in Israel. You know, Sheikh Yassin was the Hamas leader who was in a wheelchair, who was disabled. And he had just been assassinated. And then there were all big banners of saying, 'Sheikh Yassin', and then 'Kill Israel', 'Israel Die'. And there I was, I just thought, 'Oh my God'. But it wasn't like that, people were so... who was from there, were more than interested that I was Jewish. They all knew because I had written the Jewish cookbook and he told them anyway. And I was treated with the most... the graciousness that you can imagine. People wanting to know how it was for the Jews of Egypt and all that. But the meal was just unbelievable. Because everything was... people did cook so much and so much variety. And then, on the way back, because we stayed... it went on for three days. I stayed there for two nights.

And I did meet somebody – maybe if I have time, I'll tell you – there, who was important to me. A woman that I knew as a girl. She was the daughter of a woman who gave me recipes that also went into Arabesque. So, on the way back from the wedding, there had been Fergus Henderson, who has the restaurant, St John, was a great friend and had gone to school with the groom, who was a Lebanese architect. And he had... Fergus's father was a famous architect, and maybe they knew each other also through that. But Fergus had been at the wedding with all his extended family, including his father. And his mother and his sister. And they were going home, they had hired a car, and they said, do I want to go with them. They were going to go past the Beqaa Valley. And I said, yes. And we went through the Beqaa Valley, and we stopped in Zahle. 

Claudia Roden (b. 1936) is an Egyptian-born British cookbook writer and cultural anthropologist of Sephardi/Mizrahi descent. She is best known as the author of Middle Eastern cookbooks including A Book of Middle Eastern Food, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and The Book of Jewish Food.

Listeners: Nelly Wolman

Claudia Roden talking to her granddaughter Nelly Wolman about her life in food.

Tags: Lebanon, Sheikh Yassin, Fergus Henderson

Duration: 3 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023