Award-winning chef and author Laila El-Haddad is heading to Adelaide to showcase the unique flavours of Gaza.
Middle Eastern food – and its complex spice blends – is burgeoning in popularity across the globe thanks to chefs such as Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tammimi. Inbound Palestinian chef Laila El-Haddad is another culinary figure who has showcased the region’s delights having co-written The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey. She also featured in the Jerusalem, West Bank and Gaza episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Part Unknown, showing the New York chef around Gaza for the program.
The former Al-Jazeera journalist, who is now based in the US, will host a cooking demonstration in Adelaide on Saturday, April 8. The demonstration will provide a platform for El-Haddad to exhibit the uniqueness of Gazan cuisine, while also providing a valuable opportunity for audience members to experience the distinct culture associated with the Levant.
Through her demonstration, El-Haddad wishes to make it clear that Gazan food is more complex than traditional Middle Eastern fare. Gaza has historically found itself as a waypoint for a host of distinct food cultures.
“Ancient caravans and invading armies brought with them regionally distinct cuisines,” El-Haddad tells The Adelaide Review, “such as that of the agrarian inland areas, that of the sophisticated coast, and the native cuisine of Gaza City itself, rich with spices that were very likely absorbed during Gaza’s days as a nexus along the ancient trade routes.”
Among others El-Haddad will showcase the vegetarian dish Rumaniyya
El-Haddad wishes to embrace the inimitable circumstances resulting in Gazan food and present them to a new audience. For her demonstration, El-Haddad will prepare autumnal dish Rumaniyya, the name roughly translating to the “dish with pomegranate”.
“I thought it would be fun to showcase the versatility of a vegetarian dish and play against the popular stereotype that Middle Eastern food at large is meat-based,” she says.
“I am also aware that there is a vegetarian trend in Adelaide, and that a lot of its residents are interested at the very least in exploring vegetarian dishes.”
Going a step further, El-Haddad is also desires for the dish to be differentiated from more traditional Gazan fare. “There are several elements that make Rumaniyya distinct from traditional Gazan food,” she says. “Its incorporation of sourness, attained from using tart white pomegranates, the use of dark, rich and nutty red tahina as a thickening agent, and aromatics such as dried red chili peppers, dill seeds, cumin, and garlic are ingredients used only by Gaza and its neighbours.”
Attaining recipes that accurately reflected such traditional Gazan cuisine was not a rudimentary exercise for El-Haddad, requiring significant research and development. “We faced a challenge in terms of translating many of the orally transmitted recipes to writing,” she says. “It took a fair bit of back and forth, observation where possible, and kitchen testing. Sometimes things weren’t in season or time was scarce so we had to approximate as best we could.”
The contemporary development of Gazan food has also evolved as a result of a forced malleability. “There has been some adjustment in terms of the ingredients that are used in modern times due to the ongoing blockade and limited purchasing power of the majority of the residents,” she says. “Most can no longer use olive oil the way it was once used in abundance; nor traditional grains like freekeh or burghul.”
These circumstances often result due to political issues in her homeland, issues that El-Haddad aims for her food to reflect. Food becomes a symbolic connector to a historic time and place unavailable to many as a result of displacement or disconnection.
“Where all trace of their villages now no longer exists the memory stays alive through the food.”
Laila El-Haddad’s cooking demonstration is being held at Sprout Cooking School and Health Studio on Saturday, April 8, 6.30 pm. Bookings can be made at