Not only a recipe book and a journey to discover the popular Palestinian cuisine, but also a collection of life stories under occupation, memories of colorful and crowded markets, scents of spices, cardamom coffee and mint tea. This and much more is enclosed and described in the book “Pop Palestine. A journey through the Palestinian popular cuisine. Salam cuisine between Gaza and Jenin” (“Stampa Alternativa” publisher, 2016), written by Fidaa Abuhamdiya and Silvia Chiarantini.
How was the idea of the volume born? “The idea – tells Abuhamdiya, chef and Palestinian blogger – was to document the film “Pop Palestine. Salam Cuisine from Hebron to Jenin “, a trip through the Palestinian cuisine I made with four Florentine friends: Silvia, who wrote the book with me nurturing the passion for Palestine and our kitchen, a Silvia’s colleague, a cook and a photographer”.
Fidaa studied Science and Culture of Gastronomy and Catering at the University of Padua: “I decided to come to Italy because I am fascinated by your culture, especially that of food. Recently I presented the book in various locations in Italy, the first date was June 6th in Rome with a Palestinian dinner and presentation of the volume, then I went to Bologna, Milan, Trieste, Naples and other cities“.
The culinary heritage and the typical dishes represent the heart of the volume being also an intelligent trick to talk about politics, culture and humanity of the Palestinian people. As the preface by Daniele De Michele Don Pasta recalls, “this book is so immersed in the stories that recipes are a moment of respite, of peace before the storm, sweet, melancholic, poetic storm, which these adventurous traveling companions have given us“.
Palestine is often synonymous with wars, bombing and tragedies. The book of Abuhamdiya and Chiarantini does not deny this reality but proposes another narration, which enters people’s lives revealing the less known and perhaps most interesting aspects to them. “Speaking of Palestine – the author of the preface states – is a nonsense, nobody speaks of it in these terms, few think of it as a tourist destination, no one imagines that there is a life beyond the war, that there is a cuisine that’s not field kitchen“.
The book tells about Palestine through a series of brilliant narrative expedients: recipes, travels, smiles, beautiful things: “And we find ourselves slowly immersed in an unexplored world until then that becomes familiar, exciting, full of humanity, of stories, of perfumes“. Entering the kitchens you can taste the gastronomic specialties and appreciate the skill of the cooks, the chefs and the street vendors: “One forgets then the injustices, the fact that this is a place of deprivation of the simplest forms of human right, we forget the absurd historical process that led a whole people to disappear, to vanish, because the balance of the world could not take responsibility for their history, colonialism, Nazism, economic interests, territorial divisions“.
The Palestinian cuisine, Abuhamdiya explains, varies from one city to another, from one village to another and also from one home to another: Palestine is small but very rich. The most famous dishes are the “maqlouba”, which means “overturned” and consists of meat, vegetables and rice, and the “musakhan”, based on chicken, onions, bread and sumac, more common in northern cities. Another specialty, prepared for parties, is the “mansaf”, which mixes meat, rice and jamid (an ingredient based on yogurt and salt dried in the sun).
These are simple and tasty dishes. The ingredients that are used are cereals, meat, vegetables and olive oil. Nothing unusual for Western tastes, apart from some spices like sumac.
Cooking is a very important part of Palestinian culture and identity. Palestine usually hits the headlines when talking about military campaigns, death and suffering. According to Abuhamdiya, “making Palestinian cuisine known helps to defend the identity of our people oppressed by the Israeli occupation, which has taken everything, including culture. It is a way to tell the link between the Palestinians and their land, because the dishes on our tables are the transformation of the ingredients that come from the earth “.
The trip led Fidaa Abuhamdiya, Silvia Chiarantini and their fellow adventures to visit the memorial, the tomb and the museum dedicated to the great Palestinian poet and writer Mahmoud Darwish, which is on a hill in Ramallah. A modern, light-colored stone building surrounded by a green park. An evocative place of peace and culture. The chapter dedicated to Ramallah, political and administrative capital of the Palestinian Territories, ends with the evocative and melancholic verses of Darwish:
“As you prepare your breakfast, think of others.
Do not forget the pigeon’s food.
As you conduct your wars, think of others.
Do not forget those who seek peace.
As you pay your water bill, think of others,
those who are nursed by clouds.
As you return home, to your home, think of others.
Do not forget the people of the camps.
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others,
those who have nowhere to sleep.
As you liberate yourself in metaphor, think of others,
those who have lost the right to speak.
As you think of others far away, think of yourself,
say: “If only I were a candle in the dark“.
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