On the surface, the idea of mixing food and politics from one of the most volatile regions of the world, would seem a fraught endeavor.Enter The Gaza Kitchen, a cookbook celebrating the life and recipes of a remarkable people living under harsh political oppression. The Gaza Kitchen is more than just a wonderful collection of recipes and personal stories about the roughly 1.7 million people living in the Gaza Strip. This book is about a noble people struggling to survive and hold together their cherished traditions and way of life, and despite the never-ending obstacles, somehow appear to retain their human dignity against an uncertain future.
Laila El-Haddad—a Palestinian writer and journalist, along with Maggie Schmitt, an American anthropologist and writer based in Madrid, wanted to document the daily lives of ordinary people living in Gaza, and share the rich history and variety of foods from this unique part of the world.
As El-Haddad explains in the video, it was not easy to get into the Gaza Strip. During the summer of 2010, there was a 6-8 week window of time to enter and conduct the field research for their book. By design, their principle focus were on foods prepared in the home and not in restaurants. Laila explains further:
“The public or street food scene tends to comprise mainly meats, grilled meats, kabobs, whereas the home cooked foods tend to incorporate many more vegetables and stews and rice dishes”… “The really fantastic array of vegetables, seasonal vegetable stews often with tomato based gravies—that’s what you would be eating at home, as well as this variety of one-bowl meals that are prepared in Gaza. So they’re kind of stews that are thickened with sesame seed paste tahina and again a variety of ingredients like sour pomegranates and sometimes tamarind and poured into bowls, allowed to cool, and those again you would never see those, or eat those in restaurants, or in public.”
As the author’s explain in more detail in the book, Gazan cuisine is a amalgam of styles, absorbed from the larger “Levant” region that included former parts of Turkey to the edge of the Nile River. The sudden influx of refuges that entered Gaza in 1948, created its own combination of culinary influences, as they describe, “a little of the coast, a little of the farming regions, a little Egyptian influence, and a little influence from migration to the Gulf, all mixed up with the native Gazan love for dill, hot pepper and sour tastes”.
In the short video below, Laila talks about the Zibdiya, the ubiquitous mortar and pestle that is used in preparation of almost every home dish.