Preserving a Palestinian Identity in the Kitchen

HAIFA, Israel – A sweet scent fills Mariam Sindawi’s kitchen as she sprinkles patches of ruby ​​paint into a boiling pot of onions, following an age-old Palestinian recipe passed down by her mother.

Ms. Sindawi, 82, is preparing mussakhan – flatbread layered with onions cooked in olive oil from the village where she spent her childhood, topped with spiced roasted chicken, topped with pine nuts. and fried almonds.

Watching her every move are her 28-year-old niece and cooking partner, Abeer Abbasi, long an avid observer of her teta – Arabic for grandmother – in the kitchen.

As many Palestinians move away from the culinary traditions that underpin their culture, matriarchs like Sindawi say they feel compelled to pass on their family’s cooking secrets.

“It’s to preserve our traditions and make sure they don’t get lost along the way as time goes on,” says Ms. Sindawi as she collects the spices – star anise and cinnamon, among other things. – to spice up my chicken. . Abbasi.

In 2021, Fadi Kattan, a French-Palestinian chef from Bethlehem, traveling through the West Bank and occupied Israel amid Covid lockdowns, records a series of videos called “Teta’s Kitchen” in which he met Palestinian women like Mrs. Sindawi and exchanged recipes and techniques.

His project, he said, aims to revive a cuisine that is part of a broader Arab tradition involving foods such as hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, amount of fat and shawarma which he feels is being collaborated by Israeli chefs.

“Food is being used to normalize the Israeli occupation by denying the origin of everything from hummus to falafel,” said Kattan. “Images of our grandmothers’ hands working in the kitchen, rolling grape leaves, dipping thyme bread in oil.”

He added, “These are images of beauty being stolen from us.”

There is much overlap between Palestinian and other Arab cuisines, and many of the hundreds of thousands of Mizrahi Jews immigrated to Israel from Arab countries and North Africa in the late 1940s and The early 1950s, often forced, would also eat foods like hummus.

But many Palestinians worry about the future of a cuisine that they see as intrinsic to their identity, especially when it is classified as “Israeli”, which they feel denies its Palestinian or Its Arabic.

In July, Ina Garten, American author and television cooking celebrity, being attacked for describing on Instagram a recipe involving hummus and fattoush as a “Israeli vegetable salad. “Last year, the contestants at a Miss Universe pageant in Israel be censured to roll grape leaves with Palestinian women and order the food they have created is an example of Israeli culture. (The hummus controversy is also raised in a new Netflix series in which Palestinian-American comedian Mo Amer lamented the existence of a chocolate.)

According to Mr. Kattan, the secret to real Palestinian cooking?

“When you knead the dough, that’s what you do with your hands – words can’t describe it,” he said. “When I ask people, ‘What’s your culinary secret?’ They say, ‘nafas.’ Nafas means breath. That’s emotion. It is the desire for hospitality. It is sharing. “

For Ms. Sindawi, when it comes to making dishes like mussakhan, whose origins are unclear beyond mentions in songs and folk tales, it’s also the use of traditional ingredients. The gardenia for onions is essential, she says, as is freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil in Jish, her ancestral village at the foot of Mount Meron, near the border with Lebanon.

“We don’t buy our olive oil from anywhere else,” she said.

While respecting tradition, Ms. Sindawi acknowledges that Palestinian cooking has changed in recent years.

Much of that is the result of higher incomes for Palestinians – allowing people to afford more diverse food choices – and exposure to new cuisines on television and online, which This has led to some changes in the way of cooking.

Ms. Sindawi said that Palestinian cuisine has long been associated with the use of vegetables and plants, but a meat-heavy diet is increasingly popular, citing the fact that shawarma and kebab stalls have become popular throughout the West Bank because of the lack of food. occupied.

But traditional plant-based culinary customs are still present among many younger Palestinians.

Izzeldin Bukhari, 37 years old, host of vegetarian cooking classes and East Jerusalem food tourmakes a point of tapping into the culinary knowledge of older generations.

He regularly visits with Palestinian women, most of them the wives of farmers from Bethlehem, who daily gather on the cobbled sidewalks near the Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem to sell wild plants and vegetables.

“I know when I talk to these women,” he says, “ask them what they do with the greens they sell.” Grinding unripe chickpeas to make pistachio green hummus and making fava bean curd stew are some of the tips he’s gathered.

“Nothing is discarded,” he said, approvingly.

Fathiya Salah, 56, a greengrocer from the Palestinian town of Al-Khader, near Bethlehem, has childhood memories of drying grapes in the sun to make raisins with her mother, who also taught her Prescribe grape nectar as medicine homeopathic treatments for anemia.

“This generation, they don’t eat these anymore,” she said, referring to homeopathic products that were once popular among Palestinians.

Before 1948, when more than 750,000 won Palestinians were forced to leave their homes or flee when the state of Israel was established, a mass exodus that Palestinians call nakba or “disaster”, where about three-quarters of the Palestinian population lives in mass villages. focus on agriculture.

Some traditions rooted in that agricultural legacy continue. Outside a house overlooking verdant hills and quaint terraces in Battir, a West Bank village south of Jerusalem, a group of 15 elderly Palestinian women preparing for this year’s wedding ceremony screened cracked wheat to remove dirt from the grain.

Clouds of dust rose as the women – some of them dressed in robes with traditional red tatreez embroidery – sang and clapped as they prepared wheat for use in lamb dishes.

But such traditions and the social gatherings that bind them are slowly being lost, Vivien Sansoura Palestinian conservationist from the neighboring village of Beit Jala, who is writing a book about the practices of Palestinian farmers.

Ms. Sansour said the urbanization of rural villages and towns that were once rural areas of Palestine and the difficulty in accessing Israeli-controlled farmland has led many young people to seek employment. higher wages in Jewish settlements. Instead of harvesting the wheat themselves, families are buying sifted wheat, reducing the need for women to collect to clean it.

“Inside my hands are my ancestors,” she said, brushing her fingers through the wheat in a steel pan outside the home of Umm Hassan, the groom’s mother. “This is 10,000 years of cultivation.”

Feelings of belonging and loss also conveyed Ms. Sindawi’s sense of Palestinian recipes inherited from her mother.

Born in the coastal city of Haifa, she was 8 years old when large areas nearby, originally assigned to a hypothetical Arab state by the United Nations in 1947, were occupied by Israeli soldiers in 1948. after the Arabs rejected the United Nations plan – including her ancestral village of Jish. .

Ms. Sindawi and most of her immediate family fled north across the border to Lebanon. When they returned home six months later, they discovered that 18 members of their extended family had been killed.

Many Palestinian families returned to razed homes and slaughtered livestock.

Foraging, a traditional Palestinian practice, suddenly became a lifesaver. “We tried to be creative with our dishes, so we cooked wild plants,” Ms. Sindawi said.

Khobeizah, or common hibiscus, and loofah, a flowering perennial with bright green leaves, are some of the edible plants that grow wild that her mother cooked.

Mrs. Sindawi is now in her late afternoon. Touching the front door of her apartment, a line scribbled in Arabic reminded her: “key”. Her hands trembled as she took the chicken out of the oven, a side effect of a medication she took.

But her memories of times and places she longs to return to, like making taboon bread in the clay oven with her mother, are still alive, she says – as vivid as the scent of cinnamon and trees vengeance rose from the modern oven she used now. when she cooks with her niece.

“Our relationship is really based on the kitchen,” said Ms. Abbasi, who asked her grandmother for advice when she trained in Tel Aviv to become a pastry chef.

The women work continuously together in the steamy kitchen, stopping occasionally to document each spice and ingredient used to create the chicken mussakhan.

“My father said it was very important for me to learn everything my mother cooked,” Ms. Abbasi said. “He literally said, ‘Write it down because you don’t know when you’ll need it.'”

Rawan Sheikh Ahmad contribution reports from Haifa, and Hiba Yazbek from Jerusalem.

Sound due to Parin Behrooz.


News7F: Update the world's latest breaking news online of the day, breaking news, politics, society today, international mainstream news .Updated news 24/7: Entertainment, the World everyday world. Hot news, images, video clips that are updated quickly and reliably

Related Articles

Back to top button