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Halifax chef preserving Palestinian culture, history by teaching traditional recipes

Chef Aziza Hamdan. IG: @chef.aziza

Editor’s note: This story has been updated for clarity on the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

 

Chef Aziza Hamdan‘s kitchen is “magic,” filled with the smell of aromatic spices like the tangy and herbal Zaatar and olive oil simmering in the oven.

The sounds of the food sizzling and bubbling under Hamdan’s hands mixes with the Palestinian music playing in the background, all in the hopes that “people feel like they’re in a true Palestinian kitchen,” says Hamdan.

The local chef has been offering Palestinian food workshops to kids and adults in her home or at the mosque since she graduated from Nova Scotia Community College’s (NSCC) culinary arts program in 2019.

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Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Hamdan says she’s holding workshops for adults and kids within her own home with a limit of 10 people, including herself, in keeping with the province’s COVID-19 protocols. Social distancing is also a rule she enforces in all her classes.

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When it comes to children’s workshops, she only takes in six because Hamdan says “it’s hard to keep them physically distancing.” Before every meeting, she calls her workshop participants to go over COVID-19 screening questions with them.

In the workshops, she teaches people how to make traditional Palestinian food like falafel and musakhan, which features a roasted chicken baked with spices and onions served on taboon bread.

Musakhan.

I’m responsible to show the world about everything that’s Palestinian right from my kitchen. So the people (can get a taste and feel) of the culture through my clothes, food, and music,” said Hamdan. “I want to show the world how rich Palestinian culture is.”

But more than that, Hamdan wants to teach the next generation of Palestinian-Canadians about their culture, especially as the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories continues.

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This is why she holds cooking workshops for kids and asks them questions about what city or area their parents are from, and to have them be proud of that.

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Hamdan also hosts a small gathering of Palestinian women at her home once every week to share recipes and make food that’s unique to different regions in Palestine.

By chronicling recipes and teaching others, Hamdan seeks to safeguard the Palestinian identity from erasure.

“My goal is to transmit the culture through the use of my kitchen,” she said.

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Hamdan hopes that by teaching traditional recipes, the next generation of Palestinians will continue to remember who they are–descendants of mothers and grandmothers who keep traditions alive through food and celebrations.

“In Palestine, in Eid or in festivals, we have gatherings and we prepare food together with friends and neighbors, so I try to bring that same experience in my home with the other women,” Hamdan said. “In Palestine, we are all a family. We are all connected.”

She hopes to eventually publish their recipes in a book, so she can share them with the wider community.

Hamdan is also working on translating the recipes into English, so she can start offering workshops for anyone who’s interested and does not speak Arabic.

In the meantime, people can view her work here.