Falastin: A Cookbook

Author: Smai Tamimi & Tara Wigley

Review by: Brian Newman

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It’s rare for a book about anything to do with Palestine to make it onto Australia’s bestseller lists, but here’s one that has. It’s not a novel, it’s not a political tome, but it has some stories of life in Palestine…and it’s full of recipes!

Falastin, by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley, is a celebration of Palestinian food. There is no ‘p’ in Arabic, so this is the more correct translation. Tamimi is business partner of Yotam Ottolenghi, and both share a similar trajectory – both born in Jerusalem, both chefs, both gay, and both moved to London where they established their business and reputations as amongst the world’s foremost chefs, bringing Middle Eastern food to us all.

What sets this book apart is the series of little stories interspersed with the recipes. Written by journalist Wigley, they are glimpses of life under occupation, a gentle introduction to the experiences Palestinians endure on a daily basis.

For example, Battir is a small village just out of Bethlehem, a verdant valley with stone terraces and an ancient irrigation system, full of lush vegetables, including the famous long, thin sweet Battiri eggplants. The site of a battle over the separation wall, which was eventually won by a combination of Palestinian and Israeli activist efforts in the courts, the valley survived unscathed, and is now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Other vignettes include a story about Banksy’s Walled Off Hotel, cooking in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, and Sumud, the story of one family’s long struggle of resistance to the theft of their farming land.

The recipes are Tamimi’s. Fantastic food, full of Palestinian flavours, less complex than some of the team’s earlier books, and delicious to eat. Plenty of vegetarian options, but meat and fish dishes are there too. My favourite so far is Musaqa’a, which echoes the Greek dish moussaka, and it is a winner! Next to try is the famous Palestinian dish Maqlubet, an upside-down savoury rice cake.

Is the way to a people’s soul through their food? Maybe, but this cookbook is a delightful story of Falastin and what sates its people. Read the stories, cook the food, and eat in solidarity.