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Discovering my Jewish roots


The Cooking of Venice
Claudia Roden Writer
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When I was in Venice, I went to the synagogue there. There are three synagogues. And they are quite different. One is Iberian. They sing in Judaeo-Spanish or whatever. And the other is Ashkenazi. And the other one is actually of the Jews of Sicily who came. Because Sicily and the south of Italy were part of Spain when Spain banished their Jews. So, the Jews of Sicily and the south went north. They went north to Rome; they went north to other cities. But they went north to Venice. And so, there was also... there were these communities of Jews who came from Spain, Ashkenazi Jews from Germany. And Jews from Sicily, but also Jews from the Levant. Because they came as traders. There were a lot of Jews from Turkey. There were what we call Mizrahi Jews now. And they lived in the ghetto, they all lived in the ghetto. And so, when I went, the only person I found in a synagogue said, 'We haven't got recipes but there's an old people's home in here as well, in the square. Go there and they'll give you recipes because there are women who come every Friday to cook for the old people's home. They are volunteers. And to cook the Jewish food. But also, on Passover they do a big event, for tourists as well, who are there, who want to come for Passover or the new year. So, they'll tell you'.

And I went there, and yes, I met those three ladies, and they told me they had done a book. Not them. I got that book eventually. All the synagogues in Italy had produced... well, not the synagogues, it was the Jewish community, the ladies' organisations who had, in each case, decided to send recipes of their region. And the ones I met in Venice were the ones who actually put them together, edited the book, and managed the book. And they said they didn't have the book there, but they said, 'We did a book'. And one of my aunts actually, my aunt in Israel, gave me the book. I don't know how she got it. So, they were telling me that in the ghetto, those different cuisines were the foods of the ghetto. And when the Jews were allowed out of the ghettos, it was when Italy was invaded by Napoleon. Napoleon had begun the enlightenment by saying everybody is equal and you have to make your communities equal. They opened the gates of the ghetto. And the ghetto, there was even a doge, who became like the mayor or whatever, was a Jew. And a lot of Jews, they left the ghetto. And so, a lot of the food of Venice is of Jewish origin. And there are people... I've got a book of Venice, The Cooking of Venice.

By the way, I should tell you that wherever I went, if I could find local books, I did buy. But this I bought afterwards when people started writing cookbooks more. And I did find that a lot of the recipes of Rome are Jewish as well. And they do know it and they say it. There are restaurants now where the owner isn't Jewish, but they do Jewish dishes, and they say so. Tourists like to come. And so, there was this way... I did go to synagogues wherever I could. And I would meet people there. They would always say come to my house. So, that was one way. But in the way of travelling, I always looked for pensione, unless I knew the families well and they would say, 'Stay with us'.

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: The Cooking of Venice

Duration: 5 minutes, 22 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023