‘Palestine on a Plate’ author Joudie Kalla talks to Doha News on her contribution to preserving Palestinian heritage through her cookbooks.
Joudie Kalla’s most memorable culinary experience is sitting with her mum and aunties as they bickered about recipes, heartily laughed, and shared stories about their life experiences around the dinner table. Joudie recalls these conversations creating an electric feeling and a radiation of energy throughout the room. Now, several years on, Joudie has injected those same euphoric feelings into two cookbooks: “Palestine on a Plate” and “Baladi.”
The author is a vibrantly passionate soul with a warm personality and an immense amount of talent and creativity. Though she is Palestinian, with a few years living in Qatar under her belt, Joudie was raised in London where her passion for food, family, friends, art, and history really took shape. It’s quite clear to see how the Art History graduates’ love for art is reflected in her culinary skills – a beautifully curated masterpiece on a plate.
Her love for Palestine is evident across all her cookbooks, where Joudie shares recipes ranging from her Teta (grandma) Huda’s marinated olives with chili lemon and carrots, to one of the most flavoursome national dishes of Palestine, the hearty Musakhan.
This love for cooking began for Joudie at a very young age as both a distraction and a fun hobby she shared with her mother Fadia. “It was like she had octopus hands, making several dishes all at once and it looked so effortless. And also her food was incredible. I really didn’t realise that all I was watching and learning would lead to any of this, and I am so happy it did,” she told Doha News.
“This was a way to honour her and all the ladies in our family who kept us all together like glue through our dinner table.”
As a result, Joudie found herself wanting to become a chef at a time where it was not very normal for women to be in professional kitchens. Initially, she found it quite hard to be taken seriously but once she got her foot in – “that was it for me,” she says.
Joudie is quite clearly bold and driven. It therefore comes as no surprise to see how passionate she is about being a culinary chef, and the love and dedication that is poured into her work is clear for everyone to see. More than anything, Joudie is proud of the connection and community of people from around the world that have joined her on her journey via the mutual love of food.
But Joudie’s cookbooks are more than just recipes, and include stories of life, Palestine, family and history. Among the gems inside are stories about family members that are no longer here – an important attempt by the author to preserve their memories for future generations given Israel’s decades’ long bid to erase Palestinian heritage.
After the success of her initial book “Palestine on a Plate,” Joudie gave in to requests for a second book – “Baladi”. This time around, she shared her own recipes and provided a platform for her readers to share theirs.
The new book offers an almost “walk-through-Palestine” type of vibe that was created by collecting images from 15 Palestinians around the country.
“It was incredible when it all came together. I absolutely adore Baladi. It is beautiful and has so many recipes by my families who were living in Syria, Egypt, Lebanon and more, giving it a really amazing feeling of how they were influenced by their surroundings but still keeping it Palestinian in essence,” she explains.
“So many people have written to me telling me their stories of how their mother, father, or grandparent has passed without having taught them in time”
These days, Joudie is spending her time promoting her new book while also teaching her popular Zoom cooking classes, which have become increasingly popular as millions around the globe search for human connection amid an ongoing pandemic.
“You can’t imagine how many emails i got from people telling me how my classes were their only connection to other people and that it saved them. In fact, they saved me. And I love this! This is what I am talking about. We think it is just a cooking class, but it is so much more. We get to know each other, people who have bought class packages are seeing the same faces again and again and they are making friends online. What an amazing thing to happen,” she says.
“It really means so much not only to me but to my mother Fadia who taught me everything I know, and in turn has turned me into the vessel to teach you all. This is the biggest achievement for me by far, being her daughter,” she adds.
But this has come at a cost.
“You will miss birthdays, weddings, dinners, gatherings with friends and family. Life will seem to be passing you by, but if it is a passion and you really want to make something of it, you have to put in the effort. Nothing comes easy,” she says.
Budding culinary chefs must take on the journey purely on passion and not fashion, she says.
“I see so many people now doing blogs and popping up on social media like their life depends on it, but there is so much more to it than a pretty picture. It’s about discipline and learning. Experimenting and experiencing other cultures. Putting in the hours. And of course enjoying the food you make and are sharing with so many others,” she says.
“So many people have written to me telling me their stories of how their mother, father, or grandparent has passed without having taught them in time and that they miss home and a connection to it. They tell me that my books are helping them find that missing piece that they do not have. This means the world to me, and my mother, that we managed to touch so many people’s lives like this.”
To follow Joudie Kalla’s inspirational culinary journey, follow her on instagram @Palestineonaplate.
Chereen Shurafa is a Doha based community counsellor, writer, and certified change coach. She is the founder of “Dear Chereen”, an online platform dedicated to mindfulness, mental health, and inspiration.