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Seminars on Egyptian food


'The cook only brings the food, doesn't say anything'
Claudia Roden Writer
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I did go to somebody... I was invited to lunch and her mother was there. She was already a professor at the American University. They were a family who had land and they had village life as well. But they were... that is what most people who were wealthy, also who were Muslim, had land as well. And had villages and so, we went there. And we had a dish that is somewhere in my book, that was with rice and fish. And it was in a tagen clay pot. And we were in the dining room, her sister was there, just us. And their servant came and brought the pot and put it on the table. And went back in the kitchen. And then somebody else came in later. But I asked... as soon as he brought the dish, I asked the mother, 'What is the dish?' I've got my paper and pencil and I said, 'How did he cook the rice?' Because there's rice underneath and there's fish, there's onions, there's a sauce. And I said, 'Did he put a fish stock? Did he put water?' And she said, 'I don't even know if he put any water'. The thing is, she didn't even know how to cook at all. It was the cook who knew, because she didn't even think... or maybe I mistook something, she must have known. But she just didn't know how to explain.

So, she called the cook, and he came, and he described how he made it. So, I wrote it down, from his description, and then he was just about to go. Somebody else came in, and she came in and she said, 'What's happened?' As though something terrible and dramatic has happened. 'Why is he there talking to you?' Because the cook just... only comes, brings the food, doesn't say anything. He might say something if he's asked. But to be there talking when she heard him when she opened the door... And she just thought something terrible has happened. And yes, so that was sort of really nice. 

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: village, dish, chef, cooking

Duration: 2 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023