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Dinner at the Gritti Palace in Venice


Looking for the regional Italian food
Claudia Roden Writer
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I was also very keen not to waste my time. Because it was a time as well, when Gault and Millau, the French food guides who had discovered nouvelle cuisine in France, they started encouraging people in Italy to do nouvelle cuisine. And they had said they would put only people in their guidebook for Italy, for French people in Italy, who do nuova cucina. And so, there were some restaurants that were doing things like ravioli with smoked salmon and whisky. Inside the ravioli. Or there was risotto tricolore. It had to be red, white, and green, so rice and strawberries and kiwi. And I just thought, God, I'm not wasting my time every day, and how much food I can get into me. I don't want to waste. I didn't go for a whole year. I would go for two weeks and come back to England and write it up. But they waited until it was all done and then they had every week a series about a different region.

So, I remember calling a restaurant in Perugia and saying, 'I'm phoning, but I want the real traditional cuisine'. And he said, 'Well, we are making nuova cucina'. And I was, 'Can you just make for me, only cuisine of Perugia?' And he said, 'I'm sorry, they do nouvelle cuisine in France, you cook what you like. Why can't we? And why should we be stuck doing just the same?' And I said… actually he told me that after I'd been when I visited. And then I just said, 'Well, we don't want to go now, wherever we go and get the same risotto tricolore. The same liver with mango. I don't want that here. I want real Italian food because this is why we come. This is what we love about you'. But yes, there was one place that they had… on the phone I asked, because I had to go up a hill. I didn't have a car then, I also had a car, I knew how to drive then around. But once I took a train and a bus and I had a suitcase. I had to go up a hill. And then when I got there, I had told them, 'Do you do local cuisine?' And he said, 'Yes'. And then he said, 'Spaghetti in cartoccio'. Cartoccio is in a bag. In a wrapped up. And I wanted to know spaghetti in cartoccio. When I went there, it was spaghetti with curry, in cartoccio. And I just thought, no. But anyhow, these were rare occasions. Because there were many, many chefs everywhere, who were intent on keeping their traditions. And not letting them go.

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: Italy

Duration: 3 minutes, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023