The Palestine Entries: Photos of fire, stoves, and food in Gaza

// Entry #37

Food plays a big role in Palestinian culture and identity. Even though the Gaza Strip faces a siege and blockade that prevents many key ingredients from reaching restaurants and homes, many Palestinians find a way to preserve the staple food items, meals, and cooking etiquette that define Gazan cuisine. Famous restaurants like Palmera and Al-Thailandi feature fine dining at an affordable price as well as wholesome sandwiches for customers on the go. Street stands offer juices, breads, salads, and sandwiches made in the most entertaining ways. Every meal is an experience in and of itself.

Here is a small sampling of what food looks and tastes like in Gaza City. Sahtein!

Behind the counter at Al-Thailandi, a restaurant in Gaza City’s Remal district known for its Thailand-style stir-fry. To the right are three prepared chicken stir-fry sandwiches, coincidentally called “pizzas”. The manager consults his phone while preparing an order.

Facing flames, a chef at Al-Thailandi adds ingredients to the stir-fry mix.

Beef, lamb, and chicken kabob racks are kept moist and flavorful as they cook on skewers. The chicken kabob, second to the right, is used for Al-Thailandi’s stir-fry.

The fire calms as the chef tosses vegetables at Al-Thailandi.

After cooking the vegetables and preparing the chicken at Al-Thailandi in Gaza City, the chef mixes and chops the ingredients to make the stir-fry base. Portions are removed from the stir-fry base and modified depending on the order or sandwich.

A Palestinian child looks at the colorful display of toppings available for the stir-fry and the sandwiches it is stuffed in.

Across the street from Al-Thailandi is Palmera, a restaurant that offers its own take on the stir-fry. While waiting for an order, customers are encouraged to nibble on baked pita bread chips coated with zaatar, or thyme.

Palmera is praised for its kabob sandwiches. Just like Al-Thailandi, it offers a variety of meats that are stuffed into a sandwich and customized with pickled vegetables, salad, and tahina, one of the base ingredients for hummus.

Palmera’s owner is also one of Gaza City’s best cake and dessert makers. Although he specializes in artistically-designed Bavarian cakes topped with mousse and rich chocolate chunks, he is also known around the city for his excellent cheesecake.

Almost every meal in both Palmera and Al-Thailandi is served with fries. Inside Palmera’s kitchen are drum-pots filled with potato strips to be prepared into fries, or batatas.

A waiter at Palmera displays a course. Notice the batatas in his left hand.

Just blocks from Palmera and Al-Thailandi is one of Gaza City’s many well-known outdoor kabob stands.

As-Sousie’s falafel stand opens in the evening and doesn’t close until well past midnight. A team of three men make falafel sandwiches with amazing speed and efficiency. Each sandwich takes no more than five seconds and the men regularly finish orders of fifteen sandwiches in under two minutes. The process includes opening a pita bread or unrolling a flat bread, flattening three to six falafels, and adding a scoop of freshly cut salad followed by a scoop of chili sauce. The sandwiches are wrapped and handed to the customer. Sandwiches cost one or two shekels, depending on the size. One shekel is approximately equal to $0.30 USD.

The system for placing an order at As-Sousie’s falafel stand is interesting to say the least. Since the stand opens up on a sidewalk, a crowd rather than a line forms. Respectfully squeeze yourself to the front, shout your order to one of the three men, and hold your money out. When one of the men are ready to take your order, they’ll take the money from your hand. Here, a man waves a bill and hopes his order will be next.

A bowl of traditional bamia, or cut okra cooked in a tomato stew with beef. At the end of the day, there is nothing like a home-cooked meal. The yellow rice to the right is maglooba, another staple meal in Palestine.

A modest stove; this is where the magic really happens. On the left, a boiling pot of mloukheya (untranslatable and unexplainable) and to the right, a pot of tea.

Sami Kishawi

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