Iya Bazar uncovers Palestinian culture, community in the kitchen

In compiling a new zine of family recipes, Bazar found a way to begin to navigate the death and destruction that continues unchecked in Palestine.
The cover of "Recipes from Palestine: A Celebration of Food, Family, and Heritage"
The cover of "Recipes from Palestine: A Celebration of Food, Family, and Heritage"Ari Nam

As the suffering of Palestinians living in Gaza continued to intensify amid Israel’s ongoing military assault, Iya Bazar struggled with the magnitude of death and destruction to which she was bearing witness.

“I was having a lot of difficulty processing everything,” Bazar said. “It’s one of those things where I want people to see Palestinians as more than this suffering, tragic group, because we’re not just that. … I wanted to create something that could make Palestinian culture more approachable for everyone, and to help people understand that Palestinian culture is about caring for one another. And it’s about resilience.”

In considering these realities, Bazar began to lean into the memories of the communal meals that formed a crux of her upbringing, recalling how her mother lovingly prepared family dishes such as maqluba, which Bazar described as a childhood favorite. “It’s something you eat together, and there’s one big pan in the middle of the table, so it’s just the epitome of community,” Bazar said. 

Gradually, Bazar began to amass these family recipes, compiling them in a zine with the help of Kass Marina of Loverboy Kitchen. Titled Recipes from Palestine: A Celebration of Food, Family, and Heritage, the zine is available on an $8-12 sliding price scale and can be ordered directly from Bazar via Instagram. (Proceeds from the sale benefit the Gaza Sunbirds, a paracycling team currently collecting resources to distribute aid in Gaza.)

“[Iya] and I actually met and made dinner together before we even started on the process of making the zine,” Marina said. “And one of the things we both agreed about wanting to get across was the idea that there is this joy in Palestinian culture. Because what we’re seeing on the news right now, for obvious reasons, is a lot of suffering.”

Bazar lauded the work being done by Columbus activists to bring attention to the crisis in Gaza, but said she hopes this zine can begin to move people toward a deeper understanding of Palestinian culture. “It makes me happy that people might make these recipes and almost have that experience of being Palestinian, if that makes any sense, because with a lot of this food you have to share it with a group,” she said. “I want maqluba all the time, but I can’t, because it’s something that serves seven to 10 [people].”

The recipe collection process wasn’t always easy, owing in part to the habit Bazar’s mother has of leaving out one key ingredient when sharing how to prepare a dish. (“They have to make it themselves to figure it out,” she would say.) And for another recipe received in a video chat with an aunt, Bazar struggled to get accurate measurements, her aunt shrugging and holding up the mug she uses to parse out ingredients when asked how much of one item was needed.

But these more lighthearted challenges were welcome in contrast with the deeper reckonings experienced by Bazar, who said the project has taken on even more profound meaning as catastrophic food shortages driven by Israel’s blockade of humanitarian aid have pushed Palestine to the point of famine. In all, more than 1.1 million Palestinians in Gaza, or roughly half of the population, have experienced food shortages – a number that continues to climb with each passing week.

“These are recipes people [in Gaza] traditionally make, but now that food is inaccessible, where people there aren’t able to make the foods they enjoy,” said Bazar, who was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands to Palestinian parents and grew up absorbing stories about her father’s childhood in the West Bank, where he said he experienced routine mistreatment at the hands of the Israeli soldiers who would patrol the neighborhoods. “I’ve lost friends in the process of making this zine, and that loss of friendship is attributed to the conflict. And I hate using the word conflict, because it’s not a conflict; it’s a genocide. And one of the biggest things I have realized is that people don’t understand what it’s like to see aspects of your entire culture being erased.”

And yet, throughout our late April interview Bazar repeatedly returns to the ideas of resilience and community. She details how Palestinians pray together at mosque. How they cook and eat together. And how even the olive groves will be owned and tended to by the collective, with a village working as a unit to care for a plot and then sharing in any profits from the yield.

“And all of this creates this bond, and whether you know a person closely or not, you’re going to see them as a brother or sister,” Bazar said. “Especially in times like this, where so much has been destroyed, people are looking toward their relationships. They’re looking toward their faith. The people are remaining strong and persisting, even though everything they’re facing gives them a reason not to. And it’s simultaneously one of the most tragic and beautiful things I’ve ever seen.”

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