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The Hay Festival Alhambra


What did the aristocracy eat?
Claudia Roden Writer
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What happened, he took me to several tapas bars, and then we went to the best tapas bar. And I said, 'Now I have to pay'. Because yes, I did want to pay for things. And then he ordered the most expensive things that we never stopped eating. There are little things that sea things, that cost the earth, and we got mounds of them. But I was still so happy to be with him because I could not have got all this information about what they ate. And what they ate was really cosmopolitan. Because there were the... the great sherry families were English. And so, they had English nannies and they had English food as well. But they had a great cuisine that were cooked by nuns, as well. And nuns had... because everybody helped or cooked for aristocracy. The aristocracy, as were in Spain, didn't have a grand cuisine. They ate a lot of meat. It was only the priests who grew vegetables. And the aristocracy considered vegetables as poor food.

And even when the potatoes and vegetables came from the new world, they didn't eat them. They were mainly breeders of animals. Because they bred bulls, and they bred cows for eating. And cows for milk. And they bred sheep. The big industry, the only industry of Spain, of the aristocracy in olden times was sheep, for their wool. Because they exported. And they ate sheep and lamb. But also birds, they hunted, they were hunters. But because they had to regain their land and gradually move south from the north, they had to move with their animals. You couldn't bring your vegetables along. And so, they were... meat was their food. And, of course, pork. Pork was the food of Christianity. Because they bred pigs and they brought their pigs, and the Muslims and the Jews could not eat pork. And so, it represented Christianity.

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: tapas, cosmopolitan food, nuns, meat, vegetables, pigs, pork

Duration: 3 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2022

Date story went live: 04 December 2023