Episode 49: From Bethlehem With Love - The Chef Bringing Modern Palestinian Cuisine to the World
What exactly is Palestinian cuisine? And how does it differ from its middle eastern neighbours? What's it like living in the heart of an ancient city venerated for its history and religious associations? And how does a Palestinian chef find himself stuffing vegetables with world-renowned chef Jamie Oliver?
In this episode, we get all these questions and more answered by chef and hotelier Fadi Kattan, one of Palestine's best-known chefs.
Fadi is passionate about the cuisine, farmers, providores and artisans of his birthplace, Bethlehem. He also loves to share stories of its people and history.
We hear the fascinating history of the historic Bethlehem marketplace where locals still meet daily to buy their seasonal vegetables, spices and meats, and share stories. A hot topic in the market is cooking methods as the modern world impacts on traditional Palestinian recipes that have been sacred and unchanged for many generations.
Fadi takes us through the key produce you’ll find in the markets, emphasising that it changes from day to day, depending on what’s in season.
Women, he says, are the real guardians of Palestinian food, and he speaks reverently of his mother, female colleagues and the women stallholders he buys from at the market every day. When Jamie Oliver came to Bethlehem, it was Fadi’s mother, her women friends and Fadi’s female colleagues who taught him how they make traditional stuffed vegetables.
Communal cooking is at the heart of Palestinian cuisine with families continuing the tradition of coming together to prepare and cook some of the more time-consuming dishes where many hands make light work.
Fadi also shares:
his secrets to making hummus, which he stresses is not an Israeli dish
why it's safe to visit Bethlehem
what visitors should see and do and
one thing you shouldn't do when visiting Palestine.
Guests come from around the world to stay at Fadi's Hosh Al Syrian guesthouse and dine in its 30-seat Fawda Restaurant, both of which are housed in one of Bethlehem’s oldest buildings.
When he's not shopping at the market, cooking at Fawda or taking guests on a food tour of Bethlehem, Fadi hosts a food podcast and has co-created a cook book due out soon. The book, called Craving Palestine, features 100 Palestinian recipes as well as tales from its many contributors.
Fadi’s own story is a fascinating one that involves a great deal of world travel both as a child and as a chef - as a two-year-old, his parents took him for his first restaurant meal to the historic restaurant La Tour D’Argent in Paris. We hope you enjoy hearing from Fadi as much as we did.
You can read more about Fadi and his celebration of Palestinian food at his website here and on the guesthouse website here. You'll find Fadi's podcast here. You can also read about Fawda Restaurant in the Palestinian entries in Truth, Love and Clean Cutlery, a guide to the world's exemplary organic, sustainable and ethical restaurants (note that Natascha was one of the Australian contributors to Truth, Love and Clean Cutlery).
Please also see our recipe page for Fadi's recipe, for Cauliflower Leaves Stuffed With Freekeh, that he cooked with Jamie Oliver.