GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — A Palestinian-Italian exchange program brought Italian cuisine to the refugee camps in the Gaza Strip, as professional Italian chefs cooked together with Palestinian women — and both sides learned a trick or two from each other.
The Palestinian and Italian chefs came together Sept. 11 at the Center to Empower Women in Jabaliya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip. They gathered around a single table to share their experiences, each assembling the ingredients needed to prepare the Italian and Palestinian dishes, including pasta, chicken, rice and spices. Then they set to work, showing each other their recipes and sharing cooking tips.
First, Palestinian women learned Italian recipes that they described as “brilliant.” Then it was their turn to cook. Inshirah began peeling the onions, while Kholoud peeled the potatoes, eggplant and the other vegetables they needed to prepare their dish. Another woman focused on cooking the rice and putting oil into a large pan to start making maqlouba, a popular Palestinian dish. The Italians sat with the Palestinians at the same table to taste the Palestinian meal, which they liked very much.
Italian chef Domenico Maurizio Loi said that he had wanted to learn about Palestinian and Middle Eastern food for a long time, because he had heard so much about it from the customers who visit his restaurant in Sardinia, Italy.
Loi told Al-Monitor, “Palestinian cuisine is characterized by its over-the-top use of spices, unlike Italian cuisine. However, both cuisines tend to use flour in most dishes.”
He said that he learned the secrets of preparing maqlouba from the Palestinian chefs, stressing that he plans to serve it to his customers back home.
The cooking session in the camp was part of a joint cultural gathering co-organized by the Italian Center for Cultural Exchange and the Palestinian Ministry of Culture in support of a cultural exchange program to promote Palestinian culture internationally.
Skateboarding was another activity of the program, where a group of Italians trained Palestinian youths on a wood skate ramp in the port of Gaza.
The Ministry of Culture also organized a volleyball training session for people with disabilities, under the supervision of Italian trainers and the Ministry of Sports and Youth, in the Saad Sayel arena in Gaza City.
Italian volleyball coach Antonio Carini told Al-Monitor that he wants to train youngsters and discover their talents in volleyball, noting that each trainee will receive a certificate from the International Volleyball Federation.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, the director of theater and youth clubs at the Ministry of Culture, Ahlam al-Shaer, said that the Italian delegation requested organizing training sessions in refugee camps because of the daily hardships of the Palestinian people. Jabaliya refugee camp, one of the largest camps in the Gaza Strip, and Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza were chosen as locations for the meetups.
She noted that the joint workshops aim at introducing the European countries to Palestinian culture and heritage. “We were very keen to introduce the Italian delegation and other foreign delegations to Palestinian culture and heritage because it was stolen from us and [now] misrepresented [as Israel's],” she said, adding that the Ministry of Culture wanted to inform the Italian chefs that many of the dishes that Israel claims as its own are Palestinian.
Shaer described the joint activities with the Italian delegation as “fantastic and special,” as the Palestinians learned a lot from the Italians. “We aspire to organize more activities in the future,” she said.