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The Jewish community in India


Collecting Jewish recipes
Claudia Roden Writer
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I had been writing about food for quite a while and I had been travelling a lot and writing for magazines as well. While I was working on the Jewish Book, I was working on it, on the side, for a long time. And it was an opportunity when, for instance, the Sunday Telegraph asked me to write about 15 cities all over the world. And I then said, 'Oh, I shouldn't really. I've got to do this book, that is waiting. I've got to work on it'. And the editor there said, 'Well, take another day off, or two days even, we'd let you, to look for Jews'. And that was one thing that I did. But of course, I did find a lot of contacts when I travelled. Because there are a lot of Jews here, in France, in New York, where I met, because I do. And I would ask, I would meet them at a party. For instance, I met somebody who was from Coshin in India. And as soon as I heard somebody was from somewhere, I'd say, 'Oh, do you know anybody there?' She didn't have recipes, but she said, 'My family has recipes. And I'll give you the address of another family, the Hallegwas, who cook very, very well'. And so, I had these and I had their addresses. And I wrote to them. And I've got their letters, handwritten letters, with recipes. And so, I covered quite a bit about Indian Jews there, of a type of Indian Jews. Because there are four different communities of Indian Jews with four different kinds of food.

In London I had met, at a conference on food in Oxford, a woman from the Bene Israel. And she was there talking about their food. And so, she gave me a lot of recipes of black Jews from Southern India, from Kerala I think. Who discovered they were Jewish in the 19th Century only. They believed they had been shipwrecked on a voyage. Because... they thought they were Jewish because they observed the Sabbath. And they didn't eat fish with scales. They had things like that. And then the Jews of Coshin discovered them, and they gave them, sent them Rabbis, gave them religious books and they became even more religious than the other Jews. So, that was a very interesting community with a particular type of food. And a lot of them eventually, quite a few of them, went to Israel. So, I had a lot of recipes that way.

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: Indian Jews, Sabbath, recipes, communities

Duration: 3 minutes, 40 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023