Beyond hummus: Palestinians develop new food trends

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Jerusalem – From the ancient alleyways of Jerusalem’s Old City to kitchens around the world, Palestinians are driving new trends in cooking while preserving traditions.

This trend has fueled the appetite for specialty books and food tours.

“I think it will change for the better. Many Palestinians are passionate about promoting their food,” Nassar Ode said as the aroma of the oven wafted over a Jerusalem street.

The Palestinian entrepreneur has spent the past few months watching foodies flock in and out of his new Tabun restaurant, named after a traditional clay oven.

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Customers are chowing down on dishes like Armenian lahmajun, a thin pizza with ground meat and spices, which Ode remembers selling to hungry crowds in the Old City decades ago.

“Armenian food is part of Palestinian culture,” said Odeh, whose bar also features beers and wines from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

“This is very important because it shows Palestinian participation and entrepreneurship,” he said. “We should be proud of our products.”

– “New concept, new ideas” –

Taboon, which opened last year in what was once a family-run souvenir shop, is part of a string of new Palestinian bars, cafes and restaurants.

Within the walls of the Old City, they appeared in other areas of annexed east Jerusalem, such as the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or further afield in Ramallah in the West Bank.

According to Izzeldin Bukhari, who runs food tours and cooking classes in Jerusalem, they range from fine dining experiences to fusion menus that mix Palestinian ingredients with European cuisine.

“This is a great start; we’re really at the beginning,” said Bukhari, who plans to offer consulting services to business owners looking to revive their restaurants.

“Everybody’s been doing the same thing, but lately I see people coming up with new concepts, new ideas,” he said.

Showing the breadth of Palestinian cuisine and produce remains important to Dalia Dabdub, who runs Tabun and owns bars in the West Bank cities of Bethlehem and Jericho.

“We want to change the industry, make more food that people don’t know about,” he said.

A locally popular variety of aubergines from the village of Battir in the Bethlehem area is featured on Tabun’s menu, while some produce is imported from Gaza.

“I always try to pick tomatoes; when they come from Gaza they are really red and more delicious,” Dabdub said.

Gazan green chilies are particularly pungent.

The emergence of new eateries is rooted in the old town’s history of hole-in-the-walls specializing in one dish, such as falafel.

Palestinian chef Sami Tamimi grew up cooking homemade meals like school lunches, such as pita-stuffed cauliflower logs, and went out to eat certain foods.

“I remember picking up a plate and going to hummus,” Tamimi said of her favorite foods, which include stuffed grape leaves and pumpkin.

Such traditional dishes and modern dishes are collected in the chef’s 2020 cookbook: “Falastin”.

Tamimi, who moved to London more than two decades ago, says: “Ten years ago, if you went to a publishing house and said you wanted to publish a book about Palestinian food, they’d say, ‘Who’s going to buy it?’ He would say.

– “A Wonderful Thing” –

The growing interest in Palestinian cuisine abroad is due to the rejection of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cuisine as a single set of recipes.

“Nowadays you notice more focus on a country or a place and their food… I think that’s a great thing,” said Tamimi, who has several cookbooks and runs restaurants with Israeli business partner Yotam Ottolenangi.

Israelis have been more successful than Palestinians in branding local foods, including an image of the Israeli flag on falafel at the Tel Aviv airport, Bukhari noted.

“They’re very good at marketing it,” said the SacredCuisine founder. “We leave space for Israelis to talk about our food.”

But Palestinians are reaching out internationally, with Bethlehem chef Fadi Kattan set to open a London restaurant later this year.

Tamimi herself is scheduled to return to Jerusalem for a short stay in October at the historic American Colony Hotel.

After his two-week menu experience there, the chef saw how much has changed in the city’s food scene.

“It was the first time I worked with an entire team of Palestinians,” he said.