Dubai Food, Middle East Culture

Making Gazan Dukka with Mirna Bamieh

Gazans are noted to be resilient but little is known about their rich culinary tradition. Ironically, years of living under occupation has dispossessed the Palestinian kitchen resulting in several ingredients and recipes disappearing from dinner tables. The Palestinian Hosting Society founded in 2017 by Mirna Bamieh, an artist and cook, aims to reconstruct some of these lost recipes through food walks and shared meal tables.

In keeping with her collective’s tradition of food art displays Mirna brought alive the Gazan Dukka — a traditional Palestinian recipe eaten dipped in olive oil at the Jameel Arts Center in Dubai last week. Also called the ‘soil of the Gazans’ because of its colour, the Dukka is essentially a mix of roasted ingredients pound together.

To make the Dukka Mirna mixed half a kilo of powdered wheat kernels into a large bowl . The kernels had been roasted in a thick bottomed pan on low heat. To this she added roasted and crushed brown lentils, dil seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and sesame. Mixing them liberally together Mirna added some salt, summac, lemon salt and lots of red chili flakes as the Gazans like their Dukka hot.

The interactive picnic concluded with small takeaways jars of Dukka and a tasting session where we savoured it with an assortment of bread, cheese and salads with ladles of olive oil. The Dukka recipe seemed easy and very similar to the Indian style of chutney powder mix especially due to the strong aroma of roasted cumin and coriander seeds.

According to the UN over 5 million Palestinians are living as refugees today. Restrictions over food and water resources and wild plant foraging has not only damaged the richness of Palestinian cuisine but it also taken away the identity of the Palestinians’ role as a host.

Mirna’s collective reactivates Palestinian recipes through public tables. After an intensive research period the Palestinian Hosting collective creates a menu that is shared over one long table for 50-60 guests. To date, the collective has created several such tables including — ‘Family Dinners’, ‘Our Nabulsi Table’, ‘Our Jerusalem Table’, The Old City of Jerusalem, a table, a tour and a map’, ;The Wheat Feat and ‘The Edible Wild Plants table’.

Some of the disappearing Palestinian recipes and ingredients that Mirna showcased in a talk before the Dukka demonstration included — the red tahini, rich with a nutty flavour, its ingredients are roasted on fire for close to 8 o 11 hours; rolled cyclamen leaves with rice and meat stuffing; a bitter almond drink, carob bseseh are roasted semolina balls mixed with carob molasses and sesame and Malateet an ancient printed bread depicting circles symbolising rain droplets when they first touch the soil. More details of several such interesting recipes can be found on Mirna’s page

Art, Dubai Events, Middle East Culture

Learning Palestinian tatreez with Joanna Barakat

A few tomes on Palestinian embroidery are placed strategically across the long table. I open one of them, a page where a pink slip was used as a bookmark, the headline here reads – ‘Embroidery under military occupation’.  

It’s mid-afternoon and as I sit leafing through the book, the other chairs in the conference room of Jameel Arts Centre, Dubai, slowly fill in with a diverse group of enthusiastic women, who like me had signed up a few days ago for this Palestinian tatreez embroidery workshop with artist Joanna Barakat.

Born in Jerusalem, Joanna’s family moved to the United States when she was only a year old. So, according to her tatreez (Arabic for embroidery) was part of her growing up years only in the form of nostalgia sewn on cushion covers at home. Yet for people in Palestine, tatreez was one of the finest art forms intrinsic to village life, passed on through generations. During war and displacement it took on a new meaning as women kept it alive in refugee camps. The creativity of the art form provided a calming effect to them. It was also used as a weapon against the occupation when embroiders stitched motifs of the Palestinian flag on clothes.

Joanna, who is also the co-founder of The Tatreez Circle in the UAE, begins her workshop with a presentation on tatreez styles across Palestine before 1948. Each region, it seems had a distinctive embroidery pattern. In Bethlehem embroiders used to follow a unique couching format. As the area had several traders and merchants, their embroidery styles reflected the influence they carried from their travels. The region was synonymous with heavy embroidery on long sleeves and geometric patterns woven on silk wedding dresses called Malak.

On the other hand Ramallah was well-known for the cross stitch embroidery pattern. Dresses from this region were sewn with a wine-red cross stitch. Jerusalem interestingly had both couching and cross-stitch tatreez patterns.

The designs depicted the socio-economic status of the people and the motifs they sewed were influenced by their daily life. Famous for their native oranges, embroiders in Jaffa, for instance, stitched orange blossom patterns. Natural dyes using indigo were woven on dresses to ward off the evil eye. The hems of long dresses worn by Bedouin women were stitched with dark blue embroidery. If they remarried they added bursts of red along with the blue to showcase joy back in their lives.

Post the historic Nakba in 1948, however, these distinct embroidery styles became a mishmash of patterns drawn from each region to become universally known as Palestinian tatreez.

This informative presentation was followed by the actual workshop that involved some real stitching and sewing. Each participant was given a kit with a needle, a meshed cloth and a tatreez pattern. The goal was to learn to sew a cypress tree motif from either — the Hebron style, Beersheba, Gaza, Ramallah or Jaffa areas.

Joanna showed us that to maintain an easy grip on the thread the length of the yarn should be only as long as one’s hand. She quickly measured a red thread and effortlessly put it through the needle and showed us a simple cross stitch pattern. We could choose a style we wanted to follow and stitch on.

Cypress tree embroidery motifs from different Palestinian cities

Only it wasn’t as easy as it looked. As women around me were sewing cypress trees with their nimble fingers I was still struggling to put the thread through the eye of the needle. Exasperated after a few failed attempts I took the assistance of the skilled lady next to me. Then funnily enough went on to sew a motif that nowhere resembled the ones synonymous to Palestine. Amused at her errant student Joanna readily offered to resew it so that I could start afresh. In reality the most fitting outcome of the workshop for me was not stitching the embroidery but going back richer with insights on the tradition and history of tatreez.