Claudia Roden: Middle Eastern food


Middle Eastern food


  • Intro

    Claudia Roden, born to a Jewish Egyptian family in 1937, emigrated from Cairo to England in 1956 as a result of the Suez crisis. Claudia has written a number of successful cookery books. Here, she talks about her initial reasons for recording Middle Eastern recipes and about attitudes to these foods among the British in the 1950s.


    The taste for foods from abroad among the British has fundamentally changed over the last fifty years. In the 1950s and ‘60s, as disposable incomes rose, more and more people spent their money eating out and travelling abroad. While holidays overseas introduced the British to new foods and flavours, increasing numbers of restaurants selling ‘foreign’ foods opened in UK cities. Wimpey bars sold ‘genuine’ American hamburgers, Italian style coffee bars served cups of hot espresso, and pasta restaurants helped the British to forget their fears of strange, new ingredients like garlic and olive oil. As hundreds of thousands of people immigrated to Britain, Indian, Chinese, Greek and Turkish restaurants increased in number and popularity. It is important to remember that while the British were happy to accept these new foods, many were unwilling to accept the communities themselves - numerous minority ethnic restaurant owners have suffered over the years from the racist comments and actions of their customers. The famous Goodness Gracious Me comedy sketch ‘Going for an English’ cleverly highlights this tendency.

  • Audio

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  • Transcript

    Claudia Roden: Middle Eastern food

    At that time, writing about food and talking about food was looked down upon. Somehow food was not a subject, it was a taboo subject, it was a ridiculous subject, people thought little of it. And in a way, to be interested in writing about food was somehow a very low thing. But when I did start writing about food eventually it was for my reasons. My reasons were loss of a world, loss of a heritage and the need to capture it. That was such a strong need that I would have, I suppose, done it anyhow. So I was thinking of us, myself, my family, all the people I know who had had to leave, but then on to also others who had come from Syria or who had come from Turkey, you know, thinking those have to be written down, have to be made a record of. But in those days I wasn’t thinking of the English because at the time the English were not interested at all in Middle Eastern food. People just though of it as something disgusting even, because the idea of those countries, I mean when the English had been colonists at that time they never ate the local food, they didn’t want to taste it. Now it’s the opposite, I can say all those things without feeling I’m offending, because I think now it’s the absolute opposite. It’s somehow gone completely the other way. When I came here as well, when I told people I was researching Middle Eastern food they had a sort of embarrassed look, even pitiful look you know, like ‘oh, what’s that going to be? And some people were saying ‘is it eyeballs and testicles?’ Because there was no idea…

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