Cuisine Spotlight: Palestine

Jonathan Wang examines the historic roots of Palestine’s cuisine and the shameless appropriation of its dishes

The cuisine of Palestine is a wonder of the culinary arts steeped in history and oozing with culture which has been meticulously cultivated over thousands of years. The invasions of the Arab Umayyad, Persian Abbasids and Ottoman Turks, from the 7th century onwards, brought about dramatic advancements in Palestinian cuisine with the introduction of a myriad of ingredients and cooking techniques such as cumin and za’atar — a highly unique and pungent spice blend synonymous with Middle Eastern cuisine whose roots originated from Palestine. 

“Fish is a foundational ingredient in the cuisine of Gaza due to it being on the coast of the Mediterranean where fruits of the sea are plentiful”

The countries that border Palestine have had a diverging effect on the country’s cuisine with three predominant culinary regions present across the country in Galilee, West Bank and Gaza. Each region has their own unique offerings and their dishes incorporate ingredients related to its surroundings. For example, fish is a foundational ingredient in the cuisine of Gaza due to it being on the coast of the Mediterranean where fruits of the sea are plentiful. Dishes associated with the culinary landscape of Gaza are marked by the colourful traces of Mediterranean-style cooking with a staple being sayadieh (fisherman’s dish), a hearty stew of rice and fish fillets simmered in a broth laced with the warmth of cumin and turmeric. This is also served with lashings of fresh herbs and nuts. It is a gastronomic speciality that emphasises the importance of the fishing industry to the livelihoods of Gazans and translates their love of the sea into a material piece of that feeling. However, the blockade of Gaza which started in 2007 and the ongoing siege of the region by Israeli forces has laid waste to its number of food imports with recent UN data showing that just 2% of total food deliveries actually enter Gaza. This also accounts for their fish supplies as boats are relentlessly being bombarded by Israeli artillery.

The monumental destruction being done to the fishing industry and food importation has forced citizens to adapt in the face of oppression. People have turned to preparing dishes using only local produce instead of relying on external goods. An example of this is shakshuka (mixed), as many can locally procure tomatoes and eggs. Shakshuka is a traditional Middle Eastern breakfast dish that consists of eggs softly poached in a warm and tangy nest of tomato sauce and enriched with the kick of garlic, heat of paprika and coriander to contrast these punchy flavours.

“No finer dish brings people together in the country’s cookbook than Maqluba (upside down)”

There is a prominent sense of community within Palestinian cooking and cuisine as sizable portions of dishes are often made to be shared amongst a group of people. This displays the unifying power that cooking provides for the Palestinian people. No finer dish brings people together in the country’s cookbook than Maqluba (upside down). Maqluba is a historic delicacy of the Levantine period with the dish’s presentation being notably remarkable as it comes in the form of a beautiful tower-like structure with layers of long grain rice, aubergine, onions and lamb or chicken meat. These floors of food are placed in a pot with various essential spices and cooked slowly in the rich broth produced by the chunks of meat, before the pot is heaved and upended triumphantly onto a large plate for serving.

Maqluba has also become a symbol of defiance during times of conflict as numerous portions of the dish were cooked to feed Palestinian protestors at Al-Aqsa in 2018. The coordinator of this act of courage in front of Israeli forces, Khadija Khweis, stated: “The true maqluba is not made with rice, chicken and vegetables but with steadfastness, persistence and perseverance and with shouts and cheers when flipped upside down.”

The Israeli occupation of the country from 1948, known as the Nakba, has signalled the shameless appropriation of Palestinian culture, the genocide of countless innocent people, and the displacement of many, many more. In regards to the cuisine of Palestine, some of its most revered gastronomic gems such as hummus, shakshuka and maqluba, have had their Palestinian foundations discarded by Israelis who falsely forged ownership of these goods—a remarkable showing of how fervently obsessed zealous supporters of Zionism are with trying to plunder Palestine’s magnificent cultural and culinary tapestry.

This conflict has claimed the lives of over 28,000 Palestinians since 7 October 2023 and tens of thousands more prior to this most recent eruption of bloodshed. Many Palestinians have been cornered into the besieged sliver of land known as the Gaza Strip while their most essential services are reduced to rubble and Israeli forces immorally massacre with utmost prejudice. On 11 February 2024, the southern Gazan territory of Rafah, inhabited by vast numbers of Palestinian refugees was bombarded in what is possibly one of the most atrocious cases of crimes against humanity committed in the 21st century. It is as clear as day that this a crusade permitted to continue for far too long while international authorities turn a blind eye to the blatant war crimes being orchestrated currently by Benjamin Netanyahu. 

“We shall bear witness to the complete eradication of a country’s entire culture at the hands of cruel forces”

Therefore it is imperative that we proactively make an effort to keep the fires of Palestinian cuisine alive in Ireland through supporting restaurants with Palestinian roots like The Cedar Tree and Bethlehem along with generating never-ending awareness around the terrible events unfolding in the country. Otherwise we shall bear witness to the complete eradication of a country’s entire culture at the hands of cruel forces.