One of the highlights of the trip so far has been all the Palestinian meals I’ve eaten in the homes of our new friends. There’s nothing like home cooking; even when the flavor profiles are completely different from our own, things taste so much better when you know they were cooked with love.
One of my favorite dishes so far has been Maqluba, which means “upside down.” This dish consists of rice, cucumbers, tomatoes, spices and chicken. You cook everything together in layers, and when you’re ready to serve, you flip it over like an pineapple upside down cake, giving the dish its name.
A side project I’ve been working on here is helping a young Palestinian doctor prepare for his residency interviews in the States. We meet in his family’s home or a coffee shop a couple of nights a week and I interview him. I’ve been using the digital voice recorder that I use in oral history interviews to record our sessions, which we then listen to and review, polishing his answers and addressing any grammar or pronunciation issues. I have been encouraging him to incorporate more personal stories into his answers and he has made some great progress. He is an outstanding student and highly motivated. I’ve been learning a lot about the residency system from him & with his outstanding test scores, research publications, and community service work with the refugee camps here, I have no doubt that he will match with a great program. In exchange for the interview practice, we have been sharing wonderful meals cooked by his mom. Her goal is for me to try all their favorite local foods, and I’ve enjoyed everything she’s prepared so far. Her daughter is a student at the local university who is very interested in healthy eating. She has helped her mom retool all the family favorites to be more healthy. I had a great conversation with the daughter tonight about some of the choices she’s convinced the family to make (fresh salads, baked/grilled meats, fresh soups, freshly squeezed juices rather than processed juice). I’ve enjoyed the healthier take on their traditional favorites!
I mentioned in my last post that our kids have a standing play date with some classmates each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon for language practice. Last Thursday, Mohammad invited me to join them for dinner (Lynn had to miss out because she had a research interview). The family runs a restaurant in town which cooks local food to eat at home (in this busy city, many families have two working parents and don’t have time to cook traditional food). The family prepared a delicacy called kershek (I think!), which are lamb’s intestines and stomach (I guess tripe would be the polite phrase) stuffed with rice, chickpeas, and meat. The intestines were absolutely delicious and I would eat them again in a heartbeat. It was a lot like boudin, just with different spices. The stomach was tasty, but I don’t think I’d seek it out. In the local slang, they call the dish a “bomb” because as soon as you bite into the rubbery stomach lining, you have a 50/50 chance of the stuffing exploding everywhere. As it turns out, this dish is very expensive to prepare. It took his staff of four women all day to properly clean the offal and cook the dish. A doctor friend of his ordered a large pan of the dish the same day. That dish cost about $200! I figured my piece of intestines and stomach ran about $30! Anyway, it’s not a dish that you have very often — and it’s special because in addition to the time it takes to prepare, most folks will only eat it if they know the family who prepared it.
We’ve also enjoyed the street food here. The city has a vibrant falafel and shawarma scene with small restaurants all over the place. Often, the bakery making the pitas is right next door, so the whole meal is very fresh — and super cheap. We’ve also tried the street corn, the Arabic coffee which has cardamon ground in with the beans, local sweets, and, of course, the Arabic gum ice cream!
We heard a lot about Palestinian hospitality before we came — I can safely say that it’s a real thing! The foodways are definitely one of the biggest similarities between here and Mississippi. So many family and social events are centered around food! You can’t even pay your rent without sitting down for a coffee and snack with the landlord. We’ve had a great time breaking bread with our new friends.