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Review: Palestinian Pop-Up Kitchen at Lafayette Gourmet

Last week I attended two different conferences with central themes about content marketing and essentially storytelling. I listened to speakers from Google and Facebook talk about how brands are telling stories differently through the use of social media. A neuroscientist performed optical illusions on us to demonstrate gaps in human perception and how context is everything in storytelling. It was one speaker and one event after another to shed light on the importance of storytelling, needless to say it was refreshing to see this theme spill over where it really matters when I went to the Palestinian Pop-up Kitchen at Lafayette Gourmet.  

Chef Dima Sharif teamed up with Lafayette Gourmet to design a modern Palestinian menu inspired by her upcoming cookbook of which storytelling is a central theme. The book is intended to be a collective of recipes drawing on traditional and historical Palestinian dishes and the stories behind them. Being Palestinian myself, this was a subject dear to my heart (and my stomach) and obviously hers. It was clear that this pop-up kitchen was more than just good food it was a peak into the kitchens of Palestine, an ode to Palestinian cuisine.

For the purpose of this menu, Dima worked closely with Lafayette Gourmet’s Culinary Director Russell Impiazzi. The collaboration allowed Dima to validate the authenticity of the flavors while Russell perfected the modern interpretation visually. The pop-up gained a lot of momentum in its 10 day run and featured dishes such as Freekeh stuffed quails, Halwyoo and caramelized onions in tahini sauce and Madlooqa, a semolina and cream dessert.

We started with the Mini assorted Dips platter which included a trio of dips: beetroot and tahina dip, parsnip dip and caramelized onion and sumac dip adorned with mini sesame bread. Boasting familiar flavors, I loved the chunky texture of the luscious purple beetroot dip, the parsnip dip had a sweet yet earthy touch to it and the caramelized onion dip was reminiscent of the Palestinian national dish, Msakhan (more on that below). The Heritage Beetroot and Fresh Zaatar Salad was served with pickled red onions, radishes and apple vinaigrette, a combination which melted in my mouth with just the right sour consistency.

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For the mains, I had the Coloscasia Mash with Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks which was the winning dish of the evening. The beef was braised and fell apart with just the pierce of my knife, an indulgent main. The generous portions of lamb shanks were resting over a bed of earthy coloscasia mash alongside crunchy pearl onions, all covered in a blanket of rich and savory gravy.

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My friend and fellow foodie, Worth a Taste, opted for the Musakhan a la Mode, the national dish of Palestine and the most familiar flavors of the evening. Msakhan is an meal we ate at home regularly growing up so it is the only dish for which I had a benchmark to compare. This entree is served with chicken nestled in a bed of caramelized onions and sumac over taboon bread, a type of flatbread. The presentation was updated for the sake of the pop-up and the bread was thicker than what I am used to but the flavors were spot on leaving my taste buds nostalgic.

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Dima talked about reviving forgotten recipes and ingredients and the importance of Palestinian culinary heritage in her upcoming cookbook. This dinner was just a prelude to the stories that will infiltrate our kitchens, a reflection on the flavors of Jerusalem and the ingredients from Nablus. It is important to remember the land and people who cultivated this cuisine that we love so much, these are the stories that are never to be forgotten. This is how Palestine should be remembered and these are the stories worth telling.