Sara Abdulmagid shares some classic Palestinian recipes!
Everyone’s a foodie nowadays. So many restaurants make such delicious food, Tiktok food creators teach us how to make easy meals at home and food bloggers are more prominent than ever. The universal enjoyment of food is something I’m totally on board with, but one thing missing from the conversation about food on social media is its origins; we need to talk more about the cultural significance of food.
Hospitality is a key element of Arab culture – we express love through our food! When an Arab cooks for you, they’re sharing a piece of their culture and heritage. Behind every recipe is a piece of history, and making these meals allows us to keep our culture alive. In a world where Israel can take so much away from Palestinians, we strive to keep alive the origins of our food, because without that, we begin to lose our heritage. When someone serves you falafel or hummus and tells you its Israeli, they are erasing centuries of Palestinian history and heritage through that very gesture. In the US, there’s a myriad of ‘Israeli’ restaurants serving traditional food from the Levant and passing it off as their own. Falafel, hummus, baba ghanoush, shakshuka, labneh – the list goes on. Israel was created in 1948, but Palestine, Lebanon and Syria have been around for centuries. Our food is older than Israel, and yet they have managed to convince a large population of people that hummus and falafel are Israeli!
Let’s talk about the olive tree, which is a symbol of Palestinian nationality and our connection to the land. Agriculture is significant to the Palestinian identity, and with its resistance to drought and its longevity, the olive tree symbolises our resilience andperseverance despite almost a century of brutal occupation. Olive oil production is significant to Palestine, contributing almost 15% to the Palestinian economy, with olive trees making up almost 50% of agricultural land in Palestine. Despite all of this, during olive harvesting season, there is always heightened Israeli settler violence through the destruction of olive farms. Olive oil is one of our most important exports – its flavour is truly like no other country’s. The best gift a Palestinian can give to someone special is a bottle of our olive oil.
'Hospitality is a key element of Arab culture – we express love through our food!'
Zaatar is another common ingredient and spice in Palestinian cuisine. Zaatar actually has 2 meanings in Arabic – fresh zaatar is a type of wild thyme that’s very similar to oregano, and the spice is a mixture of the dried herb, sumac and sesame seeds. The best way to eat zaatar is by dipping bread into olive oil (Palestinian, of course!), and then dipping that same bread into zaatar. Stripping it back to simplicity is how we enjoy food best. To take it further, we make Manaeesh with zaatar, which is dough topped with zaatar and olive oil, cooked in the oven. A typical Palestinian brunch will usually include eggs, falafel, hummus, labneh, and of course, olive oil and zaatar, better known as Zeit w Zaatar!
So, when eating hummus, falafel, olive oil or zaatar, keep in mind the history and culture of these foods, because it may seem minor, but to Arabs and Palestinians, it’s one of the things keeping our heritage alive.