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The history of Egyptian food


Seminars on Egyptian food
Claudia Roden Writer
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The seminars that I was really researching for... I was going everywhere to get recipes to tell them what they can cook for tourists. That was the thing. And before that I had several experiences, many. But one of them was with somebody who... she said, 'Come with me, we'll go to the market and do the shopping and then we'll do the cooking together'. When I said I'm writing a book. And so, we went to the market, and she bought a duck. A live duck. And then the duck started running off. And we were running after the duck. And everybody was running after that duck. But then she said, 'Can you cut his throat?' So, she didn't cut it at home, but they cut his throat. And she bought the duck, and it was again, for me, the kind of things that it happens in many countries. It doesn't happen in England. And then we cooked and then, you know, that was quite a whole big session.

But in the seminar... I was giving the seminar in the ball room of a palace, an old palace, that had built for Empress Eugenie at the time that Aida was performed for the first time in Egypt. And maybe for the first time that it was finished. And I think it might have been Khediv Ismail, had invited Princess, or Queen Eugenie to come. And the palace was built at that time. And so, for me... I would pass that; it was in Zamalek near to where I lived and where I went to the park. I would pass that palace every day when we were small. We'd go to the park. And there I was going to be talking about cooking in the ballroom. And I had dressed up perfectly, with a long skirt and long sleeves to be honourable. Or to be respectable rather. And then I had prepared quite a lot to say, but I had also sent it to them in writing. Because I write everything, and I had the papers, the sheets while I was talking. I could read as well, but I had sent it to them so they had printed them already, and they could give them to the chefs. And they also had them translated for the chefs who did not read English.

And so, there I was, I had asked them first of all, while I was there, why is it that you ask me. And they said, 'Well, because now we want to know...', and I said, 'But don't you know what Egyptian cuisine is?' And they said, 'Well, we don't know if any of the food we eat is really Egyptian. It's Syrian, it's Ottoman, Turkish. What is really ours?' Except they thought the only food that is really theirs was the one that the pharaohs ate. And luckily, I had done all that research and I said, yes, Melokheya. The seeds were found in pots in the tombs. The broad beans were found in the pots. And they were found in people's guts. They were found... also Melokheyaa was all along the Nile, everywhere where there was a tomb, there was somebody who had eaten Melokheya. And also, broad beans. Because there were the staples, the big staples and they are still the staples in Egypt. And Melokheya is the national dish, so was ful medames. And then they said, 'No, tourists like... they don't like Melokheya'. It's true that nobody but Egyptians like Melokheya. I adore it, we all adored it. But ful medames is poor food. 

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: Egypt

Duration: 5 minutes, 39 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023