Upon reading Plated Heirlooms it is clear to see that the book is written with love, passion and emotion from start to finish. No ordinary cookbook, the creative piece by chef and writer Dima Al Sharif is filled with mouth-watering recipes and attention-grabbing tales of Palestine, a country immersed in culture and history. The author gives us a taste of the book and explores the cuisine’s importance both regionally and globally…
Tell us about your passion for Palestinian cuisine…
Palestinian cuisine is the compiled story of this sesame seed-sized country’s huge history, diverse geography and varied social groups and lifestyles. It tells the story of the passage of time and the changes that took place throughout history.
Cuisines are always reflective of all aspects of people’s lives so Falasteen, like all countries, had plated a cuisine that can be fragmented and divided into sections and categories – however it is never fully understood nor completely savoured until viewed as a whole.
My personal mission is to connect Palestinian food with its roots, to tell the stories of the people who cooked and created the dishes we know. And more than reinventing the wheel, I wish to evolve the same rooted recipes into their new form today as a continuity of the story.
Do you believe there’s a lack of awareness and knowledge of Palestinian cuisine both globally and regionally?
I believe that Palestinian cuisine is the least known of all the Middle Eastern cuisines globally. It has suffered from decades of occupation and the diaspora, the uprooting of olive trees and the mass destruction of farms. The cuisine has not been clearly and efficiently classified before and there is very little research done, or information to count on, which is why I wanted to write a cook book to tell the story of the Palestinian cuisine. I believe that Palestinian cuisine, culture and community will always live on in the hearts of their people, wherever they are.
Has Palestinian cuisine been forgotten a little in the UAE? If so, how do you think this can be altered?
I don’t think the cuisine had been forgotten in the UAE. While only a few restaurants are dedicated Palestinian cuisine restaurants in the UAE and known as such, there are many “Arabic Cuisine” restaurants that serve dishes from Palestinian cuisine. However, how much awareness the diners have that this is Palestinian cuisine is debatable.
I think Arabic restaurants, in general, could benefit from adding a narrative to their concepts that highlights where the different dishes are from, which also makes their customer’s experiences more interesting. I do think that we need more restaurants dedicated to Palestinian cuisine in the UAE, that are not solely focused on Palestinian street food and grills, but also on the other unique and fabulous Palestinian concoctions because the food is great and also adding the narrative to the food makes it very interesting for diners.
Is there a struggle with sourcing ingredients for Palestinian cuisine in the UAE?
Generally, most ingredients within Middle Eastern cuisine are widely available. However, the more unique ingredients to Palestinian cuisine are not as available such as Akkub, Kishek and Maftool to name a few. For these, I have to actually bring them from Palestine for my home use.
For a business this could be an issue, and so many of the unique varieties of food to this cuisine are not on offer even in the dedicated restaurants. I think there is an opportunity there for suppliers to consider bringing in these ingredients as many Palestinian families live here and would love to have access to them, along with the restaurants. Also at times the quality of what is available is not exactly the best, so I think it is safe to say that this service could be improved tremendously.
Could you share an overview of Plated Heirlooms?
Plated Heirlooms is an intriguing blend of cultural history, family stories and Palestinian recipes. It’s an exploration of my native Falasteen and its rich culinary history through generations of Palestinian cooking. In 500 pages, eight chapters, Plated Heirlooms explores traditional Palestinian cuisine, its cooking techniques, as well as some of the country’s native ingredients. There is a section devoted to the olive tree and its fruits, while the book’s most extensive chapter looks at the tradition of ‘mooneh’. The Arabic word for pantry, mooneh describes the tradition of pickling and preserving seasonal foods for the months when they are not available, or as was often the case in Palestine, to ensure an available food supply during uncertain times. Plated Heirlooms pours from the belief that while all food is dictated by geography, it is culture that creates and shapes the many varieties that a cuisine plates. It is about the history and the story of Palestinian food.
How do you believe the book will bring Palestinian culture and cuisine to the forefront?
I wanted to write about my true Falasteen, which I feel gets lost to what we see on the news today. Falasteen is a unique and beautiful country – one that is full of heart – and its people are beautiful, and their traditions and ways should be celebrated. I wanted to bring back that part of Falasteen to people’s minds, which I fear gets forgotten amidst the noise of what, unfortunately, dominates the headline news stories today. For me, food is a reflection of culture, history and all aspects of our lives; it’s what unifies us as humans. I wanted to explore this universality in my book. I wanted people to know that if we were to change the names of the cities, people and the concoctions, the book becomes universal and comprehensive to all of us whoever we are.