Notes on food in Palestine
On the everyday and Gaza, Wellington’s best roti canai and a very ‘happy’ snack.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
There is a TikTok account that I’ve returned to almost every day over the past month. It’s the account of someone who from what I can tell is an 18-year-old woman (I’ve inferred that from the name of the account and some comments) who lives in Gaza (made clear by their short and sweet bio: “from gaza palestine”).
It was the day after Israel’s bombardment of Gaza began – in response to Hamas’s October 7 attack in which the militant group killed 1,400 people in Israel, and took 222 hostages – that I first stumbled across this account. I don’t even have the TikTok app, so I’m not entirely sure how it made its way into my search bar. Why it’s become a sustained presence in my search history since then is less of a mystery to me.
On the first day I came across it, I recall the account being populated by short videos of everyday life in Gaza from before this current war began – all picturesque in a dishevelled, worn kind of way. And it’s one particular video, posted in June this year, that, through constant rewatches, has cemented itself in my brain to a point where I can replay it from memory, sound and all. It’s a 16-second montage of Gaza from this TikTok user’s point of view: glimpses of sunsets, beaches and her pets lazing in the sun of her apartment. In between, hands pour tea, olive trees sway in the wind, old men sell bags of spices, and street vendors sell sausages, grilled meat and vegetables and peanuts.
Since I first watched that video, and over the past three weeks, Israeli forces have killed more than 8,000 people in Gaza and more than 100 Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. Each day seems to break with news of another unthinkable atrocity, more killed and a frustrating level of inaction from leaders. What unfortunately needs to be repeated each and every time we talk about this crisis is that this isn’t a singular event, rather it is the most recent chapter in a crisis that has unfolded over almost a century. It’s a crisis that then must be qualified by asymmetries in power between Israel, which is recognised as a state, and the Palestinian people, who live under military occupation or are refugees.
Unsurprisingly, as the bombardment of Gaza began, the videos on this TikTok took a devastating turn. No more food, or tea, rather images of rockets making their way through the night sky, the next day her balcony covered in dust and rubble from neighbouring buildings, and a video a day later showing her once dreamy-looking neighbourhood now entirely flattened. On the 14th of October she posted a message letting followers know that her family and pets were safe but that there were challenges in accessing power and internet to stay connected. Since then, silence – no videos posted in over two weeks.
At this point, I’m mostly checking in on the account daily in the hopes that this stranger I know only from her un-narrated clips of her surroundings posts another video and signals that she’s safe. And I return to it too because it feels that there was an implicit sense of resistance in these romanticised vignettes of everyday life – even those made before the bombings began. Most of us are well aware by now that even before this current bombardment, Gaza was a challenging place to live. But within the cracks of those blockades and Israeli military incursions, there was joy, beauty and delicious food.
In the ongoing struggle of Palestinians, food has always been central. Much of this is because food is about continuity. In its most essential form, it is about the continuity of life and of basic survival – food as fuel. Beyond the bombardment of Gaza by Israel, there is a quieter but still urgent crisis – one that the United Nations has called a humanitarian catastrophe: rumbling stomachs, desperately thirsty people drinking salt water and parents skipping meals so that hungry children might eat. The politics of food underpin issues that expand beyond this immediate crisis and physical survival too; the survival of links to the land, of political sovereignty, of culture and tradition or attempts for resolutions. Watermelons, a staple of Levantine cuisines, even have a long, trailing history of symbolising Palestinian protest.
On many fronts, there’s a necessity to find space to hold multiple truths in our hearts and minds at the moment. One of those to me is space for those images of what is, but also what was. By that I mean that alongside those images of abject horror and misery in Gaza that we’re bearing witness to daily on social media and through news outlets, we must remember the humanity, dreams, celebrations, beauty, deliciousness and ordinariness of what was before. There’s no sense of escapism in doing this either. Those images of what was before only colour those relentless images of suffering, already horrific in themselves, so much more tragic. I’ve said it many times before, and I’ll repeat it again, but there is a power in the everyday, and especially food as a tool for humanising people, especially for those who are seldom afforded that basic right. In an article I read recently, Palestinian-American performance artist and curator Noel Maghathe summed up the vitality of food: “In Palestine, the act of eating transforms into an act of resistance.
“Each bite is not just a taste of home but also a taste of defiance, a testament to the spirit of survival and the will to hold on to their roots.”
Here are five readings on food and Palestine:
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Since it was set up in 2021, online grocer Supie was hailed as being a much-needed competitor to New Zealand’s mammoth supermarket duopoly. But this week the Auckland-based grocer was placed into administration by founder Sarah Balle after the departure of a key investor left the business around $3 million in debt. The startup had struggled to meet the scale of customers and investment necessary to be competitive in the sector. While it’s a blow to customers and to competition in the supermarket sector, earlier reporting this week suggested that the 120 staff employed by the company were likely worst affected. Stuff reported that staff were told that not only would they be losing their jobs, they would also not receive their last fortnight’s pay or holiday pay. In a curious turn of events, it was announced yesterday that staff would now receive their final pay cheque (but not their holiday pay) after an “anonymous and substantial cash contribution” to one of the company’s administrators.
A roti canai combo is a requisite for the lunchtime diners of Wellington. The dish, which typically takes the form of a mamak-style roti canai flatbread with a dinky bowl of Indian-influenced curry, is served at nearly every Malaysian restaurant in Wellington. Though to the unassuming eye, the dish might look largely standardised across the capital, they’re distinguishable by quality. That’s what prompted The Spinoff contributor and roti canai expert Preyanka Gothanayagi to take to the streets of Pōneke to eat and rank 14 different versions of the city’s favourite dish.
It’s been a bumpy year for New Zealand’s craft beer industry. In July, Epic Brewing went into liquidation. In August, Brothers Beer was put into voluntary administration. Now, Deep Creek, which began as a brewpub in Brown’s Bay on Auckland’s North Shore in 2011 and moved into a full production brewery in Silverdale in 2019, is the latest local brewer to collapse. Just weeks after the brand put in an unsuccessful bid to buy Epic, reports Michael Donaldson for the Pursuit of Hoppiness, liquidators were appointed to Deep Creek Brewing Operations Ltd on Tuesday. In a post on Facebook announcing the liquidation earlier this week, Deep Creek said a recent can-seaming issue that led to Deep Creek’s beer being recalled from the market “proved to be a step too large for our team to overcome. We are deeply saddened by this.”
The weekly snack
Pocky limited edition happiness flavour, $2.50 from Tauranga 168 Asian Supermarket: Ideally happiness would make its way into our lives through the usual channels: fulfilling relationships, doing good by others, a job you love… a good night’s sleep. But there are times when happiness needs to be summoned by other means. And by that I mean a snack – a “happiness”-flavoured snack to be specific. So what does happiness taste like? Green apple with a smattering of sour rainbow-coloured sprinkles, apparently. These take the familiar form of Pocky – chocolate-coated biscuit sticks – transformed into a fruity green apple situation with pops of crunchy, Nerd-like tangy bits. Beyond the fact that they reminded me of a green apple Lip Smacker tube I had as a child, looked a little like something from a Dr Seuss book, and they weren’t entirely awful to be fair – I can’t say that they induced happiness. But nothing makes me happier than sharing a snack with friends, so I passed a few sticks to my colleagues Shanti Mathias and Tommy de Silva. “The sprinkles are not that well integrated texturally,” Mathias said after finishing her second stick. And I agree. The stick is crunchy, but so are the sprinkles, which cling to the green coating so you’re left wondering whether they could have done something more interesting. “Why wasn’t it popping candy instead?” lamented Tommy. “That would make it properly happy.” 5/10
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte