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Couscous and Gefilte Fish: A Tale of Vanished Jewish Worlds

Claudia Roden, Acclaimed Cookbook Author and Cultural Anthropologist

Thursday, November 6, 2014
5:30 pm
State Room East (IMU, 2nd Floor)

The Borns Jewish Studies Program is pleased to bring to campus Claudia Roden, acclaimed cookbook author and cultural anthropologist, as part of Themester 2014 "Eat, Drink, Think: Food from Art to Science."

Claudia Roden writes cookery books with a special interest in the social, historical and cultural background of the food. She was born in Cairo where her grandparents had migrated from Aleppo and Istanbul at the turn of the last century. At the age of 15 she went to Paris where she was a boarder in a lycée for three years before coming to London to study art. Her parents left Egypt in 1956 after the Suez crisis, as a result of the war with Israel, and joined her and her two brothers in London.

Drawn to the subject of food, at first through a desire to evoke her own lost heritage, she continued to write about the cooking of the Middle East, North Africa, the Mediterranean, Italy and Spain and on Jewish food. Her last book is an updated and much enlarged new edition of The food of Italy – Region by Region. The publication of Ms. Roden’s A Book of Middle Eastern Food in 1968 is said to have revolutionised Western attitudes to the cuisines of the Middle East and North Africa. Its influence was recognised in 1992 when she received the Glenfiddich Trophy “In celebration of a unique contribution to the food that we eat in Britain today”. In 2010 in the US the book was inducted in the James Beard Hall of fame for the influence it has had on food in America.

Ms. Roden presented the BBC TV series Claudia Roden’s Mediterranean Cookery which involved seven countries, and wrote a 10 part series on the food of Italy for the Sunday Times Magazine. Her books have won many awards. The Book of Jewish Food (Knopf 1997) won eight international awards including The James Beard best Cookbook and the 1997 National Jewish Book Awards in the US.  She is an Honorary Fellow of University College London and of The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Ms Roden is co-President of the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery. In 2010 she was a Visiting Fellow at Yale University.

Words from historian Simon Schama:
“Claudia Roden is no more a simple cookbook writer than Marcel Proust was a biscuit baker. She is, rather, memorialist, historian, ethnographer, anthropologist, essayist, poet, who just happens to communicate through ta’am – taste. The Book of Jewish Food is her masterpiece and (though the recipes are glorious), the richest and most sensuous encyclopedia of Jewish life ever set in print. Thanks to her it’s possible to spend Shabbat with the Jews of Cochin or Passover in Alsace; to cook up the scents and savours of innumerable Jewish worlds; each with their own culinary language and texture, but somehow mysteriously bonded together in a thick ethnic emulsion. No one will ever produce a richer or more satisfying feast of the Jewish experience.”

This event is free and open to the public. If you have a disability and need assistance, arrangements can be made to accommodate most needs. Please contact


Photo by Jason Lowe