Even though food flavour is unified throughout Palestine, the Palestinian cuisine can be divided roughly into four regions, according to the variations in taste: the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Galilee and the area known as the Triangle. Variations are evident in the intensity of the taste of food and not in the recipes themselves.
The difference between what Palestinians cook in the villages and in the cities is only in the ingredients used, and not in the taste. For example burgul is more popular amongst peasants whereas rice is more popular in the cities.
Palestinian food is characterized by its sour yet sweet taste. It derives its sourness from the use of yogurt and its byproducts, lemon, pomegranate, unripe grapes, tomatoes and tamarind. The sweetness comes mainly from dried fruits such as raisins, dates, apricots, figs, and molasses, which are also sweet and sour in taste.
Palestinians also mix bitter and sour tastes. The most delicate taste of bitterness is experienced with virgin olive oil in dressings and sauces. Olive oil blends well with sour juices and contributes a great deal to the basic Palestinian taste.
Tahina, a paste derived from ground sesame seeds, is also a typical Palestinian flavour. It is always present on the Palestinian table in the form of dips, spreads, salads or sauces, and even in sweets. The degree of seed roasting determines the taste of the tahina; this is a source of taste variation in different regions.
Yogurt is always present on the table as well, either fresh on its own, in salads and drinks or often as a hot sauce. It is also used for the preparation of basic foods such as kishik, which is burgul soaked in fermented yogurt and then dried. Jmeed, too, the main ingredient for Munsaf sauce is made from dried buttermilk.
The spices most used in Palestinian cooking are cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, black pepper and summac. Herbs are usually consumed fresh. In the past they were picked when families went on picnics (Shatha), or from the garden. Thyme, coriander, parsley, rosemary and mint are the most popular herbs. They are used in stuffings, salad dressings and in sauces.
Dressings are made of any sour liquid, usually lemon juice mixed with olive oil, with a combination of garlic, finely chopped spring onion, fresh herbs and summac. There are five basic sauces in Palestinian cooking: yogurt, tahina, tomato, vegetable and brown sauce. A whole variation of each is achieved by using different auxiliary materials such as herbs and spices.
Chef and Researcher