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16 January 2024

On a culinary homecoming, influencer chefs look to perpetuate Palestinian dishes

By Reuters

For Canadian celebrity chef Suzanne Husseini, a first culinary tour of the Palestinian territories was a chance to preserve and promote the dishes and folk-remedies of her ancestry.

During a farm-to-table tour of the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, Husseini and four other high-profile chefs encountered a Palestinian cuisine often unfamiliar to foreigners more accustomed to news of conflict with Israel.

document and research and reconnect with my people, with the land, with the farms, with the food - because food is my language," said Husseini, whose family comes from a town near the West Bank city of Nablus.

The tour was sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with a view to expanding the international appeal of Palestinian cuisine despite the relative scarcity and expense of some of its ingredients.

The chefs, with Palestinian roots, focused on traditional techniques such as how to turn the poisonous dark purple Palestine lily, which blooms in the spring, into an ingredient for soups and a traditional medicine.

They also learned about the nutritional benefits of "freekeh", wheat picked while still green, smoked to retain its natural proteins and served like rice.

Mirna Bamieh, a chef and founder of the Palestine Hosting Society, which curates and seeks to revive traditional Palestinian recipes, discovered a local variant of the "kubeh" meat dumpling frequently associated with Kurdish kitchens.

"It was super fascinating because you know, we always think that we don't have a kubeh culture in Palestine,” Bamieh said.

Ismail Abu Arafeh, head of Solutions Mapping at the UNDP, said the tour gave the chefs a window into the wider culture of Palestinians amid their decades-old struggle for statehood.

"They want to see the history, the cultural significance, but also, most importantly, the nutritional value of what these old dishes bring," he added, suggesting the process could "position Palestine as a niche market that serves really the old traditional ways of production".