Monday 18 January 2010

8 February 2010, Mr Falafel

Palestinian Tiberias circa 1890, a great holiday resort and source of fish. Now,under Israeli rule, without access to Palestinians

Palestinian Eaterie
Units T4 - T5
New Shepherd's Bush Market
Uxbridge Road
W12 8LH



The second week of the falafel residency started today. We are now mindful of the fact that this project is not as easy as we thought it was going to be. In fact, we are afraid it is going to clash with everything that we set out to do in the book. We are starting the week with a heavy feeling that we are falling into a trap. Unlike our characters in the book that were relatively pliable as they were our alter egos, and even though our superhero actions were fictional, the whole book was deeply rooted in the Palestinian political reality. Now, that we started working with real people, it seems our conversations are drifting away from reality and turning into a polite exchange of feelings and thoughts. We are determined to change that this week.

We went to our usual Monday spot, Mr Falafel. Ahmad Yassine, the owner of the place was very happy to see us again and prepared a lovely plate of warm falafel, pickles, bread and humous accompanied by mint tea.

Oreet wanted to know more about Palestinian cuisine as people in Israel don’t even know of its existence. Larissa will bring a good Palestine cuisine cooking book the next time we meet. Ahmad was very happy to talk about food and explained that Palestinian food is of course very similar to that of other countries in the Levant region. Most people know Lebanese food, which is very similar to Syrian and Palestinian cuisine. This is mostly because the Lebanese were one of the first from the region to emigrate to South America, Europe and the US, and introduce their food there. One of the dishes he talked about was particularly Palestinian, called Mussakhan. It is a very interesting dish that combines grilled chicken with lots of onions soaked in oil and baked in Taboon bread. It is really delicious and what gives it its particular taste is the generous amount of sumac and pine nuts that are sprinkled on top.

Mussakhan, grilled chicken with lots of onions soaked in oil and baked in Taboon bread, with generous amounts of sumac and pine nuts. Most Israelis have no idea that Palestinian cuisine even exists, or what it might consist of. Here is the recipe for Mussakhan

Ahmad also talked about the food from the Tiberias region where he comes from, and Larissa remembered the fish from the lake in Tiberias. This used to be her favourite fish when she was growing up. Larissa remembers Tiberias as a magical place. It used to be her favourite holiday place when she was a child. She loved swimming in that lake. She used to go there with her family for long holidays as well as camping trips with her school. It is one place that she is very sad she cannot visit anymore. As a Palestinian, she is not allowed to enter Israel at all. St Peter’s fish (A type of Tilapia) is delicious!
St Peter’s fish (A type of Tilapia) from the Tiberias region, which Palestinians no longer have access to.

Ahmad explained that a lot of Palestinians that own restaurants abroad refer to their food as Lebanese and that says a lot about Palestinian identity. Many do this because they don’t think that people abroad would be interested in Palestinian food as there are so many negative associations with Palestine. This in turn builds an erroneous image to the world of what Palestine is. Ahmad goes on to say that this self-censorship, if you will, is not only limited to restaurants but to many other fields. Palestinians often hide their identity for fear of being harassed. Ahmad went on to tell us a story which was both emotional, complex, and telling about some of the work relationships in his job at a manufacturing systems place. This story could have easily fitted in Paul Haggis’s film Crash, about racial and social tensions in Los Angeles. It was a painful episode that partly contributed to him leaving his job and looking for another source of income rather than in his trade, and so he opened a falafel place.

It is interesting to note that in a previous article in the Guardian, about people from war zones who run successful businesses in the UK, they wrote that Ahmad has a PHD in chemical engineering; whereas what he really has is a Masters in advanced manufacturing systems. It is amusing to see how people want to project their own myths unto him. It is amusingly fitting here, when the subject matter at hand is Palestine. The Guardian also put his mobile number in the article, and since then he said, people from all across the UK call him to chat; he found this amusing.

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