Tuesday, March 15, 2016

100th Post {!}: Reflection on the Journey

One hundred posts, three years of researching, writing, cooking, photographing, eating, remembering and learning, and I have gained so much.  I am stronger than ever before, both in my sense of cultural self and in my confidence in the kitchen.  I am so grateful.

Today, I am pausing to reflect on this blog, this little experiment of mine.  When I started this blog, as  a way of recording my journey into traditional Palestinian cuisine, I never really expected anyone to read or follow this blog.  After all, I laughed to myself, how many people are interested in traditional food, let alone Palestinian traditional food.

As it turns out, far more than I could have imagined.  What a curious world.

But for me, this return to Arabic cooking became more than a culinary experiment, or even a health experiment.  It quickly also became a meditation on my own criss-crossed cultural identity, and the emerging cultural identity of my own children.  I found myself re-asking all of the painful questions that I had avoided for most of my life:  Since I am both Arab and American, can I ever really be either?  Am I even Arab enough to engage in this experiment - can I ever be authentic enough to cook authentically?

In the early dawn hours of reflections, here is what has come to me.

Food meets you where you are.  

Some of us are chefs, others are beginner home cooks.  Some of us are far from home, others of us are home already.  Our stories are messy, unwashed, imprecise, raw - not unlike the pile of produce waiting for us in the kitchen.  And yet, where there is food, there is always hope, a moment ripe for transformation.

Food is always authentic, if it tells the story of a moment.

In my search for authenticity, for finding the "one true recipe" for a traditional dish, what I found was that while people often say that there is just one way to make something, food itself tells a very different story.  There are always small variations, from family to family, mother to sister to brother.  Even in the closest of traditional setting, there will always be someone who makes the dish her way,   or a twist in the plot - the years when almonds were hard to find, so we always used walnuts instead.  The paradox of food is that it is both universal and specific.  The dish, as a symbol, contains all of the complexity of a cultural icon, but all of the specificity of the way that your mother made it.  So, in the pursuit of finding the "one, truly authentic way," what you really find is one true moment, that is tied to both the past, and the present.

Food both forms and expresses our cultural selves.

People who are far from home, still cook and eat the foods from their home, and they serve those foods to their children, even in another land.  Food, then becomes another home; the table, a familiar place in a strange land.  Fed into a baby's mouth, forming her tastes, the child becomes "other."  Eating hummus sandwiches in Michigan, eating peanut butter sandwiches in Palestine - we eat out of sync with the ground we stand on, to remember, to remind ourselves, to feed ourselves what our bodies have learned is good, to be ourselves.

Food is not safe.

Food is something that we can all understand, so we try to make it a starting point for the difficult, the painful, the dark.  Hummus diplomacy, they call it.  But food is not safe as long as people are not safe. And food is not neutral as long as the world isn't sure that we are a people, with a history, and a history of eating food.  Our food becomes another disputed, occupied territory, a terrain that we know, we ingest, we try to pass down.

Bint Rhoda's Kitchen

I think I still have some more recipes in me, some more answers to dig up.  I know that this experiment will draw to a close at some point, as other parts of my life well up.  In the meantime, I have a few more words and recipes to work out on here.  I haven't tried my hand at many traditional desserts, and I want to try my hand at a few.  There are more sauces, pickles and other ferments that I want to explore, and a few more traditional dishes that I haven't tried at home.  And I want to live in that space of "other" - cooking like an Arab in America, or even an American in the Arab world.

Thank you so much for reading.  You have listened to my stories, dared to try my recipes, and touched me with your encouragement, laughter, tears.  It is so good to have company on this journey.  I am so grateful. 

In peace,



  1. Beautiful, Bint Rhoda. I have followed your blog for some time now, and have deeply enjoyed and appreciated your sharing of Palestinian cuisine and tradition to the world, and wait in anticipation to your next post. Your words on authenticity resonate and strike the cord of truth. Ma'Salama

  2. What a beautiful post, Jessica! Thanks for sharing your recipes and for doing it with passion and so eloquently.

  3. Dear Jessica, that is the first time I am actually writing you, although I have read your blog for some time now, I transcripted your recipes into my notebooks and tried many of them.

    I am always looking forward to receiving a notification...that you have another post to share with us. Through your experiences and stories I feel you as a dear friend, a very similar person to the one I am trying to be, although I am in a small country in Eastern Europ. I love the food and the unique experience you have with each meal...I love the arabic tastes. Hummus and falafel are weekly on our menu. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your quest which is similar to my quest, for your heart felt stories, for your love that one cand read through your lines and for your time. You have brought great joy to my soul.

    I felt somehow a nostalgic touch in this post.. Maybe I misperceived it. But it made me share my feelings here...

    1. So very touched by your note, Alexandra. This is definitely a passion project for me, but I am so honored to be a part of your life, and for you to consider me a friend.

      I think there will always be a hint of pain when I reflect on my culture and my story. If anything, though, cooking and writing my way through this blog has been redemptive. So for that, I am very grateful.

      My God bless your quest.

  4. Congratulations! Jessica! Your blog has inspired me a lot un trying arab food. Pleas continue to share ❤

  5. Your blog is definitely one of my favorites which I really look forward to reading. congratulations! I'll look forward to read many thousands more insh'Allah.

  6. Greetings from Sweden! I stumbled upon your homepage just a few hours ago, and it made my day since I love palestinian and lebanese food. Also, except from the recipes I find the other things that you write about so interesting! Thank you for sharing ��
    Kind regards, Sara

  7. Thank you so much for your warm thoughts about food and your excellent recipes. Your blog has opened up many new ways to think about food. It helps that your writing is also excellent.
    Regards, Jan

  8. I have just found your blog through pinterest and I am so excited!!! I hope to see you write much more, because I have so much to learn! Best wishes!


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