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My Jewish odyssey


Jewish food? There is no such thing!
Claudia Roden Writer
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When my editor at Penguin asked me to do a book of Jewish food, I just said, 'There's no such thing'. I had just given a talk at Oxford saying, the Jews just ate whatever the country they were in. The same food as everybody else. And they had some festive dishes, but they ate like everybody else. But then she said, 'You have got several Jewish dishes in your book of Middle Eastern Food. You've got several Passover dishes. Several Sabbath dishes. Several dishes you say you ate at Hanukah. So, there are, there must be in the different communities'. And I just thought, where am I going to find these communities. Because it was a time when Jews, especially of the Middle East, from Muslim countries, were leaving their communities. Because of the war with Israel. So, where are they? Where can I find them? Of course I could go and find them in Israel, but nobody in Israel, I tell you this, had anything good to say about Jewish food or wanted to give a recipe. So, I thought how it would be so difficult. But then I really took it on. And I took it on, and I became obsessive about finding Jewish recipes.

And it became the project that to me is the most important that I've ever done. Because at the time, there was nothing there, written down for most of the countries. For the Jews in the different communities. And so, it took me, in the end, nearly 16 years of work. Because I didn't go about saying, 'I'm doing this book, here it is, I'm writing it'. No, and luckily the publishers let me. And I kept saying, 'I'll give you back the advance', it was only £2,000, to Penguin. And they said, 'No, you keep it'. And so, most of what I found was by chance. And it was because of travel, or because of contacts, or because of meeting. And I didn't hurry it. In fact, I was so enjoying the research, that I really didn't want to stop. People kept telling me there's no such thing, even in Israel. There is no such thing, even my relatives. But also, those others would say, 'You are working on a book of Jewish food', with such pity in their eyes. Because it's awful. The Jews themselves, particularly would say it's awful. It's not the Jews of the Middle East. They didn't say that, but usually the Jews that I met in London and in New York were, where I very much was because of my writing and other books. They would just think, oh God. And yes, so, but I kept on being more and more fascinated.

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: Jews, cooking, food, Jewish

Duration: 3 minutes, 56 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023