Ramadan goes Italian: Palestinian chef brings twist to original recipes

Amanda M. Rye
During Ramadan, Muslims the world over pray, reflect and get together with their families, in addition to fasting from sunrise to sunset.

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But abstaining from food during the holiday, which begins on April 13 and is slated to end on May 12, can at times be quite daunting, especially during the longer and hotter days. For this reason, many of the hallmark dishes that are eaten during Ramadan are quite filling and nutritious, including qatayef, a sweet dumpling that is commonly served during the holiday. Muslims commonly enjoy a few pieces of the delectable dessert following their fast-breaking meal, known as iftar.
Palestinian chef Fidaa Abu Hamdiya has taken the traditional holiday dish and given it a creative Italian twist.
Born in Hebron in 1982, Abu Hamdiya pursued her culinary and gastronomic studies at the University of Padua in Italy.
Though she currently resides in Ramallah, most of her recipes are written in Italian, a language she has long been attracted to. Abu Hamdiya’s unique perspective on food culture has also led to the creation of Italian-Palestinian fusion cuisine.
On one side, she makes her own tiramisu, panettone and other mouthwatering Italian goodies that she sells to Palestinians via a project she refers to as Tiramix Palestine; on the other, she publicizes her own Palestinian heritage on Italian websites and thanks to a cookbook she coauthored with Italian chef Silvia Chiarantini called Pop Palestine Cuisine (2016). The book features over 60 recipes.

Abu Hamdiya spoke to The Media Line about her experiences as a chef and also shared one of her most popular Ramadan recipes.

How does your cuisine combine Palestinian and Italian culinary traditions?

At home I cook both Palestinian and Italian. Some recipes are fusion, but my home is Italian and Palestinian.
It’s not hard [to mix them], because we are very close to the Italian food culture in the south of Italy. It’s not really hard to adapt the taste [of] these new dishes, because we almost have the same ingredients: olive oil, durum wheat and meat. These are the three main things that [the food] is based upon.

For example, sometimes I make ravioli with cheese and fresh Palestinian za’atar [leaves] and it’s very delicious.

How well-known is your food in both Italy and Palestine?

In Italy, I’m well known as a Palestinian chef with Palestinian food; in Palestine I’m known for Italian food. When people here talk about Italian food, many people think about me, fortunately.

How did you get into cooking when you were younger? What made you decide to go in that direction?

I was born with this love of cooking, eating and food culture. I consider food as a tool of communication. For me, it was about cooking for people and not just about giving them recipes.
It’s like studying any other thing, and you [can] teach others. Sometimes I even teach at a school here, and most of the young students choose culinary school because they’re not good at other [subjects] or because they have problems.

But food doesn’t have to be a last choice. I could’ve chosen other things, but I chose this because I’m happy to work in this sector.

What made you attracted to Italian culture and cuisine?

I was attracted to the language at first, and then the culture and the food.

Why do you think Ramadan is important, in terms of food?

People are seeing each other and gathering together. Usually people work, and even those in the same family don’t have the time to sit down to have dinner or lunch together. So Ramadan is an occasion for all people to come together.

People who celebrate Ramadan sit together and eat together, even those that don’t observe it.

I don’t like that Ramadan has become commercial and that people hurry to buy food and things like that. I’m not against special recipes and desserts for Ramadan, but I’m against the “too much” of things: buying too [much] and serving too many foods.

What are some of the special foods that people eat during Ramadan?

There are many hours of fasting. Arabic salad with tehina is very important during Ramadan. Also, people start Ramadan with eating dates.

There are also many types of juices that you don’t see outside of Ramadan, like tamarind, lemon or almond juice.

There is also qatayef, a special sweet for Ramadan that is a kind of pancake filled with nuts or cheese. I love it.

What is your vision for the future, and what do you hope will be the impact of your cooking?

I hope my cooking will arrive in every home! For Palestinian culture, I speak and write in Italian, so I know that my Palestinian food will be in many Italian households. They’ve invited me into their houses and it’s really nice. 


For the dough:

2 cups Italian type “0” flour (or all-purpose flour)

¼ cup durum wheat flour

3 cups lukewarm water

1 tsp. baking powder

2 Tbsp. sugar

For the filling:

400 gr. Tosella Italian cheese (soft white cheese, can be substituted with akkawi cheese)

1 tsp. cinnamon

2 Tbsp. sugar

Instructions for the dough:

Place all the dough ingredients in a bowl and whisk until a batter is formed.

Place nonstick frying pan over heat, wait until the pan is hot, and then, using a ladle, pour the batter into circular shapes that are more or less 15 cm. in diameter.

The pancakes are cooked on 1 side only, so within a few minutes they can be removed from the heat and set aside on a plate.

Instructions for the filling:

Crumble the soft cheese with your hands into a bowl.

Add cinnamon, sugar and mix all together.

Place a spoonful of filling in each qatayef pancake and close to form a crescent shape. Press down edges with your hands.

Cooking and serving instructions:
For baked Qatayef:

Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.

Arrange the turnovers on a baking pan fitted with parchment paper and brush them with butter.

Bake for roughly 10 minutes or until the turnovers are golden in color.

Serve with honey on top.

For fried qatayef:

Fry the qatayef in a nonstick pan with vegetable oil until golden.

Serve with honey on top.

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