Borrowing culinary traits from its surrounding countries, Palestinian food is a sumptuous assortment of vibrant and flavorful dishes that have an identity all their own. Each governate having its own specialties and cooking secrets. Thus, Palestine is a medley of food that varies from summer to winter, from seaside to mountaintop, from village to city, from street to street, and sometimes even from house to house. In Galilee, for example, you’ll find mouthwatering Palestinian dishes that include olives, pomegranates and freshwater fish from the nearby Lake Tiberius. On the other hand, you’ll find richer dishes of lentils, meats and breads on the West Bank. In Gaza, you’ll find a perfect balance of the two. Either seafood smothered in spices alongside delicious skewered meats and roasted chilies. And we would be remiss to not mention the famous Palestinian sweets and pastries.
Alright, all of this talk of food is probably making you hungry, so what should you try first? Well, why don’t we start off our list of Palestinian palate pleasers with the most important meal of the day – breakfast!
Fun to say and even more fun to eat, shakshuka literally means in English “all mixed up”. It is a hearty breakfast option with poached eggs in a robust, spicy tomato and pepper sauce. Often, on top you will find tangy feta cheese and parsley.
Often described as “the rich man’s breakfast, the shopkeeper’s lunch and the poor man’s supper”. Foul Mudammas is a popular Palestinian dish for breakfast from fava beans and often eaten with warm, fresh out of the oven Arabic flatbread.
Ka’ak al-quds is very close to pita bread. However, it has the addition of yoghurt, milk and a generous sprinkling of sesame seeds. It’s cooked in a hot oven to create a pocket in the middle. While it’s still warm, dipping it in honey or jam will become a sweet breakfast choice.
Crunchy and crispy on the outside and smooth and buttery soft on the inside. Palestinian dishes like falafel are little fritters made exclusively from chickpeas. For breakfast they are often flattened and served with hummus on Arabic flatbread for a tasty sandwich on the go.
Sfiha is a small Arabic flatbread filled with ground beef and topped with tahini (a paste made of sesame seeds) but can also be filled with several other fillings such as lamb, chicken, spinach, cheese, or vegetables. Light and tasty and best served piping hot, sfiha can be added to any other menu as a side dish or as a sumptuous snack with a cup of tea.
Not only reserved for iftar anymore, shorbat adas is a very popular Palestinian lentil soup. Palestinians (and not only) season it with lemon, cumin, and olive oil.
If you’re a vegan and fear the chicken in this dish, don’t worry – just leave it out because the real star of this dish is the freekeh, toasted and cracked, young, green wheat. It’s healthy, whole-grain fare, much like bulgur and other whole grains that, again, can work as a standalone dish or as part of a wider menu for lunch or dinner.
Maqlubeh (literally meaning “upside down” because once it’s finished cooking, it’s turned over and served like an upside down cake) is a very popular Palestinian one pot rice, vegetable and spices dish, but very often it’s cooked either with meat (lamb or beef) or with chicken and served with yoghurt.
Shish barak are lamb dumplings in a coriander, garlic and yoghurt sauce. People eat it either part of a bigger dinner menu, but it’s guaranteed that this flavorsome dish will be the star of any dinner spread.
The Palestinian food musakhan is a savory dish of roasted chicken with onions, sumac, allspice, saffron, and fried pine nuts over taboon bread. The term musakhan literally means “something that is heated” but the only thing heated after serving this most delicious meal is the debate of whether or not there will be any leftovers.
When it comes to desserts, there’s only one dessert worth mentioning and that’s knafeh – Palestine’s most iconic sweet. Perhaps the most famous version is knafeh nablusiya (from the Palestinian city of Nablus). Cheese is layered between crushed noodles or semolina, served piping hot and covered in a sugary sweet syrup and a sprinkling of almonds or other nuts.
Indeed, no matter what part of the country you find yourself in, you’ll see that Palestinian culture revolves around food. From day to day life to weddings and celebrations, food comes into every aspect. It’s about spending time with family and friends and making an event out of the ordinary. So, get out there and meet some Palestinian friends (who will end up treating you like family anyway) or go visit the country itself and have some extraordinary food!
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