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RAFAH, Gaza Strip (AP) â¿¿ Spicy stuffed squid and roasted watermelon salad are among the unexpected culinary delights of the Gaza Strip, a densely populated seaside sliver of land that that has been choked by Israeli border blockades and battered by wars.
The territory's hidden gourmet treasures have been detailed in "The Gaza Kitchen: A Palestinian Culinary Journey," a new cookbook showcasing a unique, fiery variation of Mediterranean-style cuisine kept alive despite food shortages and poverty.
Many of Gaza's 1.7 million people struggle just to get by. About 1 million get regular food rations of vegetable oil and white flour, key to survival but hardly ingredients of scrumptious dishes. Rolling power cuts lasting several hours a day frazzle the nerves of all those trying to prepare meals.
The daily hardships are a result of border restrictions imposed by neighboring Israel and Egypt in 2007 when the Islamic militant group Hamas seized the territory.
Gaza's people â¿¿ most descendants of refugees displaced by the war over Israel's 1948 creation â¿¿ often have to improvise to cling to their food traditions.
"Our situation hasn't always let us cook everything, but we have adapted," said housewife Nabila Qishta, 52, in the southern town of Rafah, near the border with Egypt.
Qishta once used an electric oven to bake bread and make her spicy stews. Tired of the power outages, she built a wood-fired kiln in her garden four years ago.
Such resolve is helping keep Gaza's unique cuisine alive.
Gaza cooks like to mix chili peppers and garlic to flavor food. It's a taste acquired at a young age, with children often showing up at school with chili spread on their lunch sandwich.
Dishes are laced with piquant flavors like sour plums, limes and a sour pomegranate molasses, or sprinkled fresh dill, an herb not widely used elsewhere in the region.