The Palestinian Chef Dishing Gourmet Cuisine Under Occupation

A hungry visitor to the West Bank might typically be confronted with Palestinian dishes such as falafel, za’atar bread, the rice and chicken mix known as makloubeh, or the sweet, syrupy knafeh dessert that is the signature dish of Nablus. But, in the famed holy town of Bethlehem, a revolution in Palestinian cooking is afoot.

Palestinian fare is traditionally cooked at home, infused with elements of cuisine from the different cultures that settled in the region and inspired by the areas from which their people were exiled at Israel’s birth. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation, dictated by family tradition. This makes it difficult for the most enthusiastic of diners to find the best that Palestine has to offer.

Most Palestinians do not have the opportunity to put their cuisine on show to the wider world. The Israeli occupation is slowly chipping away at their homeland, their colourful creations cloaked behind the grey, barbed-wire wall. But Bethlehemite chef Fadi ­Kattan is changing that, and he wants to hold on to what’s left.

The 40-year-old chef is attracting locals, ­foreign nationals and diplomats to the boutique Hosh Al Syrian guesthouse in Old Bethlehem, with Palestinian gourmet fare brought to life by French cooking techniques. And he’s doing it within the confines of occupation, hand-picking local produce from the bustling nearby farmers’ market and the villages of the West Bank.

“What am I trying to do? Transform ­Palestinian cuisine that is traditional, often home-cooked food, into a gourmet dining experience,” he says.

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