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Cookbook Showcases Gaza's Hidden Culinary Delights

Gaza's cuisine gives traditional Palestinian food "a spicy, sour, bright twist," said Maggie Schmitt, co-author of the Gaza cookbook.

The territory's penchant for strong flavors likely dates back to Gaza City's history as a port on the ancient spice route from Asia to Europe, Palestinian anthropologist Ali Qleibo said.

Gaza's location, on the fault line between Asia and Africa, and the influx of refugees more than six decades ago also have contributed to culinary diversity.

The refugees uprooted by Israel's creation included villagers, Bedouin shepherds and sophisticated city dwellers, all coming with their own food traditions.

In Gaza, they cooked familiar foods, passing on recipes to children and grandchildren, keeping a link to lost communities.

"For Palestinian people, their food connects them," said Laila El-Haddad, another co-author of the cookbook. "It locates them, when maps don't."

For Bassam el-Shakaa, 33, whose Bedouin roots trace back to what is now the southern Israeli town of Beersheba, home cooking is "libbeh."

On a recent day, he made the dish by roasting bread directly on hot coals, dusting it off, shredding and mixing it with roasted eggplant, diced chili, tomatoes and olive oil. The eggplant was a substitute for young green watermelon, meant to crown the dish, but out of season.

Like his ancestors, el-Shakaa and other men sat in a circle and ate from the same bowl. They used their hands to scoop out fleshy bread, made smoky, spicy and dewy. "We inherited this from our fathers and grandfathers," he said. "This is the food we crave."

Another Gaza specialty is cooking with clay pots, and the territory's signature dish is a fiery tomato shrimp stew with pine nuts. Spices are crushed in a mortar, using a lemon-wood pestle that releases their fragrance. The dish is assembled, baked and eaten in the clay pot.

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