Food is a long-time weapon in the cultural battles that accompany bloody conflicts and colonisations. The Spanish, upon invading the Americas and declaring the indigenous staples of maize and beans to be ‘famine foods’, irreparably and irresponsibly rearranged agricultural systems to grow wheat, wine, and olives. In India, so much farmland was taken to grow tea and cotton under British rule that the native population endured huge and devastating famines. Even today, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy generates enormous surpluses of food that are dumped on developing African countries, skewing their markets and damaging their economic growth.
These are just the obvious examples. Elsewhere, invading forces have appropriated longstanding food histories from their victims, profiting without proper recognition of their origins. The modern day spoils of war.
Such is the case with Israel and Palestine. On 14th May 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed, a territory to be founded in the region of Palestine in the Middle East. The Palestinians called the declaration “al-Nakba,” which means ‘the catastrophe’. 750,000 of them were immediately displaced from their homes. As the people were displaced, so was their rich food history. “When you talk about Israeli food, so much of it is actually Palestinian,” Naama Shefi, founder of the Jewish Food Society, tells Grub Street. “In the first few decades of this young country, people weren’t that into eating. They were more in survival mode, building a country.”
To be sure, Israelis eating and enjoying Palestinian food is not harmful, in itself. Food can actually provide a bridge between communities, in some cases. The harm comes when those in a position of power have the opportunity to monetise these dishes, without benefit to the communities that created them. The current tendency in food writing to celebrate the ways in which Israeli restaurants are ‘modernising’ traditional Middle Eastern dishes for Western audiences is the perfect example.
Despite this, the Palestinian people have not forgotten their rich food heritage, as chef Joudie Kalla writes in the Guardian: “Since Palestine has been occupied, food has taken on huge importance. It is a means of connecting us to a past – and an identity – that is slowly vanishing.” Palestinian cuisine has a shared history with the surrounding Levantine countries: Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Falafel, tabouleh, hummus, and baba ganouj are ubiquitous, but there are also regional variations within the territory. Those on the coastal plain eat more seafood and lentils, whilst rice is more common in the Galilee, and taboon bread (a type of flat bread) on the West Bank.
In the spirit of celebrating Palestinian cuisine, we decided to make two recipes from the Kitchen of Palestine blog. The first is this recipe for shulbato (bulgar wheat and aubergine) and the second is this recipe for zaatar bread (zaatar, or wild thyme, is a symbol of the land of Palestine). Surprisingly, we struggled to find real zaatar in south Leicestershire, so we used lemon thyme instead.
Both dishes were delicious, but the zaatar bread was an absolute triumph, and so easy to make. Our dough didn’t rise very much, but it didn’t matter – flatbread is very forgiving! There are loads of other nice-looking recipes on that blog, if you fancy making something yourself.