Bittman interviews Claudia Roden

It was a delight to stumble across a podcast featuring two of the most influential cookbook authors in the world talking about our favorite subject, which I found in Mark Bittman’s interview with Claudia Roden, who sparked Western interest in Middle Eastern food. (Skip ahead to 3:00 to avoid advertisements). Bittman talks to Roden about Hanukkah traditions, the changing nature of recipes, and the meaning of “Jewish food.”

Roden discusses how she got into being a cookbook author. After arriving in England in the early 1950s from Egypt (her grandparents hailed from Aleppo and Istanbul but emigrated to Egypt), Roden discovered that the food in Britain “was horrible” so she began cooking for herself and her friends. However, it wasn’t until after the Suez Canal crisis, when thousands of Jews expelled from Egypt ended up seeking asylum in England, that she started collecting recipes.

In Egypt, Roden recalled, people did not use printed recipes or cookbooks, as all dishes were handed down by family and people generally did not cook recipes from another family or another community. People did share foods with each other, however, so people did get to experience foods from other cultures and areas. After arriving in England, the refugees realized that they might not be able to eat the foods of their friends in Egypt, so people began to write down and share recipes.

Roden realized the importance of this practice, and decided to write a book with recipes from different communities. She became almost obsessed with finding recipes, haunting various embassies to find them. After her book was published, Roden was amazed at how popular it became and she regales us with tales about how Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys and other companies came to her asking for her advice. There is all of this in the episode, plus a lot more, including a recipe at the end. If you visit The Bittman Project website, you get the written recipe: Mediterranean Pantry Salad.

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  • ellabee  on  December 16, 2022

    Writing for 50 years now, and still at it! Roden’s contributions are major. Thanks for this pointer.

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