The Intersection of Culinary Cultures

by Marcella Hazan on December 3, 2010

Many of the favorite dishes on our table have come out of an unpredictable intersection of culinary cultures. My father’s people came from the farmlands of Romagna, the eastern section of Emilia-Romagna. Those on my mother’s side, although¬†originally from Le Marche, had long since been part of the expatriate Italian community that had settled in the Middle East, Syria and Egypt. The people on both my in-laws’s side were the same because they were first cousins: Spanish-speaking Jews whose ancestors had emigrated to Turkey in the 15th Century. And so, although our backgrounds were religiously and in many other ways diverse, there were moments at table where they coincided. My mother and Victor’s mother cooked bamya (okra) in the same manner, with tomatoes and lemon, they both cooked green beans in tomatoes until they were very soft, so delicious compared with the tasteless and unchewable nearly raw green sticks that restaurants now pretend are beans. Both my mother and my mother-in-law were crazy about baklava. And there were many other dishes in common, some of which are described in Janet Amateau’s¬†essay.