Alumna Post: Palestinian Food in Maryland!
After spending three months interacting closely with the community of Nablus during my internship with TYO, I was eager to share some of what I had gained from my time in Nablus with my own community back home in the Washington, DC area. When my parents offered to throw me a homecoming party, I saw it as the perfect opportunity to enjoy time with my friends and their families while sharing with them one of the best parts of Nablus: its cuisine.
I decided to prepare a variety of my favorite Palestinian dishes from scratch, taking inspiration from both home-cooked meals I had tasted in Nablus and dishes from my favorite restaurant in Rafidia. I had scheduled the party for a date falling smack-dab in the holiday vacation season, so I was not sure many of my guests would be able to make it, but I was thrilled to get RSVPs from nearly all of them, including my guest of honor: fellow TYO intern Ashwini.
My concern quickly became not whether anyone would show up but instead how I was going to single-handedly prepare a massive Palestinian buffet for over 20 guests. Nevertheless, I remembered with gratitude and awe how my many Palestinian hosts had managed to churn out heaping platter after platter of food for their visitors. After a full day of non-stop cooking, I managed to finish up the last dish just minutes before the guests started to pour in.
My guests were delighted by the food I had prepared, including both familiar dishes like hummus and tabbouleh and ones that are less commonly served in the United States, such as maqloubeh, mujaddareh, and those delicious fruit cocktails from Fekhfekhina. A few guests were able to draw parallels between Palestinian cuisine and the cuisines of other Mediterranean cultures; one of my neighbors who had spent time abroad in Greece was familiar with mujaddareh and was surprised to learn that it is also a traditional Palestinian dish. A number of my guests insisted that I send them the recipes so that they could try their hand at making some of the dishes themselves.
As I discovered in Nablus, mealtime has a way of whetting not only one's appetite for food but also for conversation. Once my guests had satiated their curiosity about Palestinian cuisine, they began to ask Ashwini and me questions about other aspects of Palestinian life. I talked at length about my classes and how rewarding they had been for both me and the students who had participated in them. I also described my experience piloting conversational English classes at An-Najah National University and having my students correspond with Hemal, a medical student at the University of Maryland who was also present at the party.
In addition to their questions about my experience at TYO, several guests were interested in hearing my general impressions of circumstances on the ground in the West Bank. In some cases, they were better able to relate to my experiences thanks to their exposure to relevant news stories. In other respects, they found that the personal experiences I was conveying to them shattered the expectations they had formed on the basis of media exposure.
At the end of the evening, I was glad to have filled my house with delicious food and delightful company, but I was even more fulfilled to have had the opportunity to share my love of, concern for, and insight into Nablus with so many of those whom I deeply care about.
Julie interned at TYO Nablus during the Fall 2010 Session. She taught Women's Aerobics and Girls' Dance at TYO and English at An Najah University. Julie is currently based in Maryland.