From the thousand-year-old alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem to the kitchens of fashionable places abroad, a wind of renewal is blowing over Palestinian gastronomy, which without moving away from its ancestral traditions, is beginning to reap great success.
The aroma of bread baked in the traditional terracotta oven wafts through the front door of “Taboon”, tickling the nostrils of the gourmets who flock to this bistro in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem’s Old Town.
On the menu there are some Italian focaccias but, above all, local dishes: aubergines covered generously with tahini (sesame cream) and pomegranate, manushe with zaatar (flatbread similar to pizza seasoned with the traditional Levantine spice based on sesame and thyme ) or lahmayun, Armenian pizza with minced meat.
All typical and popular local dishes that sell like hotcakes, emphasizes the owner of the establishment, Nassar Odeh.
The local culinary scene is “changing for the better”, Odeh believes. “Many Palestinians are eager to promote their cuisine”a far cry from the Old Town restaurants that often specialize in just one type of dish, like falafel or shawarma.
By opening “Taboon” last year in what was the family souvenir shop, Odeh intended to make Palestinian products known.
“It is extremely important because it emphasizes the Palestinian presence and entrepreneurship. We should be proud of our products”he assures.
Wines and beers from the occupied West Bank are also offered at this modernly decorated restaurant and bar with exposed stone.
For Dalia Dahdoub, manager of “Taboon” and owner of other bars in Bethlehem and Jericho, it is also about cooking “products that people don’t know about” from the Palestinian garden. Thus, its menu will soon be enriched with eggplants from Battir, near Bethlehem, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and tomatoes from Gaza, an enclave under Israeli blockade from which only certain agricultural products are authorized to leave.
“When they come from Gaza, they are very red and they taste better”says Dabdoub.
Fashionable Palestinian establishments have spread recently, both within the Old City and in the Palestinian district of Sheikh Jarrah, in the Israeli-occupied and annexed eastern sector, and even in Ramallah in the West Bank.
“It’s a great start, we’re only at the beginning”enthuses Izzeldin Bukhari, who organizes cooking classes and guided tours of the local cuisine. “Everyone was doing pretty much the same thing, but lately I’ve seen people throwing out new ideas”He says.
Renowned Palestinian chef who has lived in London for more than 20 years, Sami Tamimi recalls that “Ten years ago, if you went to a publisher to publish a Palestinian cookbook, they would reply ‘but who is going to buy it?’”.
Today, there are dozens of books. In 2020 he signs with Tara Wigley “Falastin” (Palestinian in Arabic), inspired by his culinary memories, he who is unbeatable when extolling the exquisiteness of vine leaves and fried cauliflower strained in bread, his snack when he was a schoolboy
In London, she has several chic restaurants with her partner, Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi.
The Israelis have been more successful in promoting the local cuisine, Bukhari believes.
“We are leaving a space for Israelis to talk about our food”, the Mint. That’s why, “the more we talk about our culture and our food, the more we will fill this void”He says.
And the movement has already begun: chef Fadi Kattan, from Bethlehem, will open a restaurant in London this year, while Tamimi will officiate for two weeks in October at the prestigious American Colony hotel in Jerusalem.
This is the second event of this type, after a first experience in which the chef was able to see how much has changed in the city’s gastronomic scene. “It was the first time I worked with a completely Palestinian team”indicates.