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Slovenian nannies in Egypt


Things that funded my life
Claudia Roden Writer
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You like travelling, you like accosting people too. And you'll talk to anyone. Even when you were five, you would go around the tables of old people and ask them what did you do before. You were interested. And I am really interested in people. In their lives and for me, it is more interesting than a novel. More interesting than a play. Because they are real people and because also as a stranger, when I travelled, they could tell me things that they would never tell anybody they knew, because I wouldn't go and repeat it. As a stranger they had never seen before, they could ask my advice. They could tell me a problem they had. And it was nice and fun, because I could be just like a friend of the moment. But this thing also of doing things together, of cooking together. Was a kind of experience that people find that really is a bond. And eating together is a bond. There are so many proverbs about that.

But let's say for me, as well, I had the wish that being so Europeanised in my generation. Whereas my grandmother did not speak French. She spoke Arabic, on my fathers' side. My other grandmother was the great intellectual who had studied in Paris French, for whom French was the only language in the world. She was like a missionary of French. But I was able in my travels to find bits of me everywhere. Bits of who has made me. It means the people in Lebanon who some of them had come from Syria. But the kind of attitude that they had in Lebanon, was the kind of attitude that the family of my father coming from Syria, had in Egypt. And they had. Unfortunately, some of the things were restrictive. Wanting me to marry young, and also wanting me not to have a career. Not wanting me to study. Because it wasn't what a girl, a woman should do. But on the other hand, it was a family that valued food. Valued a cook. Valued a home that had food all the time. That was also hospitable. And who wanted people around. And I had this memory of a big family. Which people enjoyed being together. And it's something that I wanted to recreate, and one way was to say when the family was growing, and leaving home, and marrying and have children. My way was saying, 'Do you want to come for lunch on Sunday?'

So, it was all things that I wanted to be. I found the language of my nanny in Italy. I found the language of my grandmother also, apart from French the Judaeo Spanish in Spain. And the idea of who we are in every country. And although I didn't write about France in a big way as I did with Italy, and Spain, I thought it was too big a subject for me. I would take too long, but I did write about it in my books on the Mediterranean. Because I did spend a lot of time, not only in Paris, but around the south especially, where I had friends had homes and one in particular, Ans Hey in Provence. And so, I did put bits of my house together by travelling, by enjoying it. And they came into my books, and they funded my life. And funded the way I could support my family. 

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: France

Duration: 5 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023