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Our food is our identity


My mother's passion for cooking
Claudia Roden Writer
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My father, as I said, was a happy man. And he got on with it. He was happy to start again, and it was easy for him. Because he was likable. What he did, it worked for him. But my mother then found that cooking was for her what she did. She became a passionate cook. And then she adored my father. They were sort of arranged marriage. I mean sort of because he wanted to marry her, and she had never... before she knew who he was. He had just seen her. And he asked her hand in marriage to my grandfather. And my grandfather said yes. Because he knew him and liked him. And so... all she wanted was to make him happy. And all she wanted was to do Syrian dishes of his family. His childhood. And this is what she was cooking all the time.

We weren't doing French cuisine here. We might have done it in Egypt. But she wanted to do all the Syrian dishes. And I was there taking notes. And I actually realised then, how important our recipes were. Because we had every Friday night people coming for dinner. They were refugees. They were cousins. Or they were friends who arrived from some country on their way to another. Everybody was unsettled then. Deciding where to leave, to live, they could be somewhere where cousins had already gone.

There was this thing that you could be anywhere. And so, they came and we were... one of the things that people were asking each other, 'Have you got a recipe?' And saying, 'Do you remember the way you did your kibbeh?' 'Do you remember, can you give me the recipe?' Because nobody had a recipe. A single recipe cookbook. They didn't exist in Egypt. We had never seen a printed recipe of any kind, anywhere. And nobody had. When we came... also when we were here, we wrote to our Muslim friends, 'Can you send us a cookbook?' Any cookbook, in Arabic, or in anything. The only cookbook that came was a cookbook that the British Army had left behind. It was their catering corps. And my father started reading it, it was translated into Arabic, it was roly-poly a la custard. Macaroni cheese. It was all the English things that the army cooked for themselves. And so that was the only printed cookbook that we could find.

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: cooking, cookbook, refugees, mother, father, recipes

Duration: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023