Old Tastes Rediscovered

Traditional Palestinian Cookery in Israel Getting Modern

Liora Gvion


Historically, Palestinian homemakers, i.e. women, have been in charge of reproducing and sustaining a distinctive Palestinian taste. This taste, which has been transmitted from one generation to the next as part of females’ socialization, rests on the appreciation and consumption of local and seasonal ingredients seasoned with unique spices which mark Palestinian cookery. Ever since the foundation of the State of Israel and the enforcement of Israeli citizenship on its Palestinian inhabitants, certain changes in Palestinian taste, as produced and experienced in the home, have taken place. A cross generational study of female Palestinian citizens of Israel, on which this paper is based, points to the processes that have reconstructed contemporary Palestinian taste and the features marking it as characteristic and as sustaining a national Palestinian identity.
First, as in the past, contemporary Palestinian taste in Israel reinforces the narrative of the Nakba which revolves around exile, destruction of Palestinian infrastructure and changes in the structure of the family and the community. Introducing herbs, legumes, baked goods and other dishes eaten by the Nakba generation and teaching offspring to like them, Palestinians in Israel link younger generations to the collective Palestinian national sentiment. Moreover, these elements crystallize solidarity which revolves around the longing for a Palestinian state with a native cuisine based on locality and seasonality. Second, Palestinian women use their position as homemakers to expose their families to new cooking techniques, ingredients, spices and dishes. These are introduced with the purpose of modernizing members of the household and equipping them with necessary means to act and function in Israeli public domains. Thus, the acquisition of tastes which partly resemble those of Jewish Israelis facilitates visits to restaurants or cafeterias in universities or workplace, meetings with Jewish Israelis over a meal or even shopping in big supermarket located out of Palestinian villages and towns.
Finally and most importantly, the incorporation of new foods into the domestic Palestinian kitchen and the acquirement of tastes Palestinians associate as modern, consists of the incorporation of ingredients or dishes external to Palestinian cookery into Palestinian domestic kitchens. The process involved means of social positioning of Palestinians in the Israeli public sphere and the establishment of a national community that claims entitlement for recognition and full civil rights. As part of this narrative, contemporary Palestinian taste which is grounded in the incorporation of industrially produced food items and new dishes into domestic kitchens. They are all presented as practical solutions that enable women get an education, work full time and still fulfill their domestic duties while contributing to the presence of Palestinians in Israeli public spheres. Furthermore, the acquisition of new tastes sends a message according to which Palestinians are modern and up-to-date citizens of Israel who select their modes of participation in Israeli society while still preserving certain differences.