As tragedy continues to befall Gaza, many strive to revive and maintain the beating heart of the nation. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean, many of the Palestinians who found refuge in the US also found a way to bring their homeland to the West. Food was their gateway, with each recipe carrying the stories of generations. Let’s take a look at some of these Palestinian homegrown restaurants introducing the nation and its heritage through food.
Beit Rima, San Francisco
Nothing speaks more of the power of the Palestinian identity than when a son transforms his father’s burger joint into a Palestinian eatery. That is the case for a restaurant that was previously known as Burgermeister and today takes on the name Beit Rima. Its owner Samir Mogannam decided to pay tribute to his family’s home cooked meals including everything from lebna with za’atar to yogurt-marinated chicken tawook.
Beyond the food, the interiors of the restaurant feel like the inside of someone’s home with floral wallpaper, string lights, stacks of cookbooks and spice jars sitting on shelves. Beit Rima is all about comfort food so if you are feeling nostalgic and craving a piece of home abroad, dropping it a visit can do the trick.
Palestinian flags flank a glass case filled with grape leaves, fried eggplant and beef pies at the proudly Palestinian restaurant Ayat. The cozy storefront is a place to celebrate Palestinian culture and cuisine, “something beautiful to share with others,” said Ayat Masoud, the restaurant’s owner as well as her husband Abdul Elenani. The bistro has become a fan-favorite as it boasts authentic Palestinian cuisine at its finest from maklouba to mesakhan.
Beyond that, the restaurant does not just serve Palestinian cuisine, it also offers a window into life in Gaza. Stepping inside, you will be faced with a mural depicting Palestinian children imprisoned underneath the golden dome of Al Aqsa Mosque complex in Jerusalem. Ayat does not hide the harrowing tragedies but rather, places them front and center. This constantly places them in a tight spot that teeters between highlighting their cuisine and being politically provocative. Yet, that never stopped the owners from being unapologetically Palestinian and merging their politics and their food.
Jerusalem Chicken, Los Angeles
Washed-out blue paint dominates the massive storefront of Jerusalem Chicken, a chicken joint that pays ode to the flavors and spices of Palestine. Its owner, Sami Othman brings his Palestinian roots to the forefront. He is yet another Palestinian owner who has to grapple with the politically complicated task of carving out space for his cuisine. Born in Jerusalem, raised in New York, now living in LA, Othman brought with him only three recipes from his mum but he only needed those three to become a hit.
Specialized in chicken, the restaurant is known to make everything from scratch, with each dish heavily relying on oil and lemon as well as an intricate blend of heavy spices like cardamom, ginger and allspice. Their menu is quite extensive with each diner offered the luxury of making their own platters with different chicken options and sides like hummus.
Quaint, small and family-owned, Cedars is the special eatery known to bring the flavors of Palestine all the way to Chicago. For 25 years, they have been serving up Palestinian comfort food like hummus and falafel. Unlike other eateries, Cedars also takes it upon itself to blend in western influences into its dishes. That is why you can expect dishes like chicken shawarma taco bowls and harissa fried chicken tacos.
Knowing all that is happening in Gaza, Cedars has been taking it upon itself to support the cause. Recently, the restaurant held its very own fundraiser for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, raising over $15,072 and exceeding its goal of $10,000, from food sales and donations. Along with that, 4 Cedars workers donated their wages from their shift. In unity, people came together in support of Palestine.
Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, Washington. D.C.
Born on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in the late 1800s was a very special woman by the name of Mama Ayesha Abraham. She had quite the history as by the age of 21, she ran 24 farms then she came to the US in the 1940s to work as a chef in the Syrian Embassy. Following that journey, she ended up opening her first restaurant in the 60s. That is the story of the founder of Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant known to serve authentic Palestinian dishes to the residents of Washington, D.C.
Eating at Mama Ayesha’s will make you feel like you are stepping back in time to Palestine back in the 60s. The entire space exudes a vintage feel through its old-style table settings and along with that, a menu of age-old classics from makloobah to hummus bil lahmeh. It is great seeing such an old establishment flourish and continue to preserve the Palestinian voice at Washington, D.C.
It is important that many of these restaurants spread across the US are serving food tied to the Palestinian identity not only because it brings a taste of Palestine to the West, but also because It contrasts deeply with the lack of free speech and cultural expression that many Palestinians at home and abroad have to face on a daily basis.