by Iman AbdoulKarim
Food is a medium for defining our identity and heritage. In The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey, Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt bring us 120 kitchen-tested recipes that reflect the surprising gastronomical diversity of Gaza, despite its relatively small population, area and historical adversities that work against preservation of Palestinian cuisine.
Historically, Gaza was part of a broader Eastern Mediterranean cultural continuum, reflected in its cuisine, which was inclusive of Egypt, Turkey, and greater Palestine. However, ever changing geo-politics of the region resulted in the creation of distinct culinary regions that continue to exist today. Households just five minutes apart may be wholly unfamiliar with one another’s recipes, something that surprised Ms. El-Haddad and Ms. Schmitt: “They really retain a regional specificity that we found remarkable. It becomes loaded in a way.” Ms. El-Haddad says, “[Food] becomes something that you want to have ownership over, a connection to your past, to your way of life. When everyone is telling you that you don’t exist, and you are not on the map—this is one way that you can locate yourself.”
According to Ms. El-Haddad and Ms. Schmitt, there are three general regions of Palestinian cuisine: urban, rural, and nomadic, which have distinct northern and southern variants.