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Egyptian culture


My childhood in Egypt
Claudia Roden Writer
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I was born in Egypt in a large extended family, in the Jewish community. And it was a very, very happy life as I see it. I lived in a block of flats in an island in Cairo. And there were my parents, Cesar and Nelly. And my two brothers, Ellis and Zaki and me. And we had a nanny, Maria Koron, who had been a novice nun in Slovenia. And her stepmother had asked her to come to Egypt to be a nanny and to send money back home. And so, we adored her.

We had a cook called Awad. He was also doing other work besides cooking. And he lived upstairs. He lived on the terrace. All the servants in the building lived in little huts or little houses... on the roof. And he had learnt how to cook our food from my mother. She had to teach him. He came from a village. He wouldn't have known. And so, yes, you might be interested in what we cooked. We cooked mostly Syrian food. Because three of my grandparents came from Aleppo. They had come when my father, who was the youngest of ten, was conceived in Syria. They came to Egypt, and he was born in Cairo. And we also cooked Turkish dishes, Judaeo-Spanish dishes. French dishes. Italian as well.

Egypt was a very cosmopolitan country where there were many minorities. And we all lived together amongst the Muslim majority, the Muslim community. We were middle class. But we had a very good life. We'd travel to Europe every year. We went to Italy. We went to France. We spoke French at home. And also Italian with the nanny. Because they were Slovenes that had a part of Slovenia that had become Italy for a period, and they had been forced to speak only Italian at school. They could only speak Slovene at home and in church.

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, Cairo, Syria

Duration: 3 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 20 November 2023