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Hiccups and love story


Every dish has a meaning
Claudia Roden Writer
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All the women... because it was only women who cooked. And so, I asked women – they were my mother's age – and they were telling me it was their grandmother's recipe, so you can imagine how old. But they are still going. When I went to Lebanon, I found that's how they cook. Because people did not want to try anything new. They wanted to cook. Not only us, or people in Egypt, but at that time, in every country in the world, people cooked like mothers did. And so, recipes were passed down in families, from mother to daughter. Not even to daughter-in-law, in Egypt, if they cooked.

But I also spoke to men. To ask them, 'What was your favourite dish?' And they had a lot to say. Because they were the ones that women had to please. And they knew how things had to be and all that. Also, they wanted to tell me other things. And for instance, one of my uncles who stayed on in Egypt until the '60s – he stayed on for not quite ten years, before he joined all his children in Canada. Because he wanted to keep doing the business that had been nationalised and run by army officers. He wanted it to work. And it was a wholesale, a big business. He couldn't leave. And when his wife died, he left. But he came to England, and he saw that I was taking notes. And he brought out a little paper, or rather a writing pad. But he didn't write. He always said, 'I didn't need to read or write, I just had somebody else did it for me'. And he had proverbs. And he had stories. And so, I did ask men, 'Have you got a story of Goha?' Because I became interested in that whole world. Not just the food, but things around the food. Are there stories about food? Are there jokes about food? Are there poems about food? To me, meant that it wasn't just a dish on its own, has meaning. It has meaning because it means so much to people. Because people joke about it, because people have a story about it. But that is gradually that I became interested in that.

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: women, cooking, dish, men, stories

Duration: 2 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023