Growing up, taking a zeit and za'atar sandwich to school for lunch was not cool, nor was my humous and falafel sandwich. The delicious food my grandmothers, mother, and aunts made wasn't something I'd see on television, restaurant menus, or cookbooks. I never thought there'd be a time when bookstores are filled with Palestinian cookbooks and when our food would be trendy and things like za'atar and humous would become pantry staples for many.
One of the newest Palestinian cookbooks out now is A Taste of Gaza by Gazan cook Lima Shawa. She describes her book as food and traditions from home, and it is like an invitation into her home, family, and Gaza. The first 60 pages of the book are dedicated to talking about the different traditions, occasions and seasons celebrated in Gaza. She not only tells us about them, but it has a highly personal aspect to it because she is telling us her memories and stories. Shawa walks us through weddings, Ramadan, the Hijri New Year, Christmas, Easter, and many more occasions and how they are celebrated in Gaza. I particularly enjoyed how she includes the traditional songs sung at weddings and Ramadan. This part of her book is important nowadays, at a time when Palestinian food and tradition must be documented for fear of it being lost. I also appreciated how she highlighted the social aspect of her upbringing and how Palestinians from every religion lived in peace and harmony, respecting one another and celebrating together.
Although some may find it strange to focus on the food of just one city, the different cities across Palestine do have quite different dishes and dishes unique to that particular area. There are of course dishes that are staples and made everywhere in Palestine, but even those differ from one area to the other, and even from one home to the next. I am always curious to see how the same dish is made in many different ways by different families. As for Gaza, it is known to have quite a robust cuisine. Shawa tells us she was visited by a dietician from Jerusalem who was comparing the variety of food in Gaza to the West Bank, and the dietician found that Gaza had more variety as it includes seafood, chillies, and different vegetarian dishes that were not common in the West Bank.
This book is on the shortlist for the Palestine Book Awards 2021, please click here to read the full review on the Palestine book awards site.