The Gaza Kitchen is a cookbook that looks at how thousands of Gazan housewives rise to a challenge that might seem overwhelming to the rest of us.
The next time you happily are whipping up a gourmet treat for the family in your modern, well appointed kitchen, or are feeling annoyed because you can’t find a particular ingredient you want in the local store, spare a thought for those trying to put a meal on the table in the Gaza kitchen.
The Gaza Strip is 41kms long and, varyingly, 6-12kms wide. Within it’s 365 sq kms it holds a population of around 1.8 million souls and has a rich, distinct and delicious culinary tradition. Gaza was an important stop on the famous spice route between southern Arabia and the Mediterranean – a position which helped it develop it’s own unique flavour preferences. As it is home for displaced persons from all over the region, it is also now a storehouse for traditional foods and flavours from the rest of Palestine.
Back in 2014 I added a copy of “The Gaza Kitchen”, by cook, award-winning writer and Palestinian exile Laila el-Haddad and writer Maggie Schmitt, to my arsenal of Middle-Eastern food titles. Recently Laila, a petite woman, fizzing with passion and energy, was in Adelaide and I was lucky enough to chat with her about her travels to Gaza and the new, second edition of The Gaza Kitchen.
While I was aware of the disturbing situation in Gaza, before finding this book it had not occurred to me that Gazans have a distinctive culinary history and defined food traditions which they struggle to maintain. Nor had I considered the daily difficulties inherent in getting food on the table in a region harshly restricted by constantly altering access to fishing grounds, a long-standing blockade and where much of the arable farming land has been appropriated as a buffer zone.
Each day in Gaza, resourceful women find ways around extraordinary food security issues in order to present their families with dishes to sustain their spirits along with their bodies.
They struggle with shortages of gas, regular power interruptions, primitive kitchens and the random, arbitrary prohibition of imported staple foods and fresh products. I’d find getting a meal together under any one of these situations challenging – let alone all of them, every day.
Food is a cultural marker, it provides comfort and identity and this book has been important in preserving, for exiles and the displaced, culinary traditions and dishes. According to Laila,, “many of the younger generation tell me they are pleased to be able to find some of these recipes that they’ve only heard about but never found a source for. They’re so happy to find them codified in one place.”
The delicious recipes in The Gaza Kitchen are predominantly family dishes. Laila says she wanted to “get past the ubiquitious dishes like hummus and falafel and look at the food that is being cooked in peoples homes and the conversations that are being had while it is being cooked.”
Full of colour photos, also included in the book are the personal stories of home cooks, farmers, and food producers who share their lives, food and heritage. Part documentary, part cookbook, The Gaza Kitchen offers us an intimate view of the lives of Gazans and a totally different perspective on a troubled corner of the world.
Now in it’s second edition, the new larger format version of The Gaza Kitchen has a fresh new layout and more room for some of the recipes that were unable to be included in the first edition. It is available online at Dymocks, The Book Depository or Amazon.