Izzeldin Bukhari: Meet the Palestinian chef feeding sacred veganism to Europe

Meet the Palestinian chef feeding ancient veganism to Europe
4 min read
15 March, 2024

For 38-year-old Jerusalemite Izzeldin Bukhari, Palestinian food is always on his mind. First a tour guide now a chef, Izzeldin's passion for Palestinian culinary history prompted him to set up Sacred Cuisine, a supper club-cum-cooking class in Jerusalem's Old City. Now he's taking it on tour to Europe.

"My main goal is to share Palestinian food, especially vegan and vegetarian food," Izzeldin tells The New Arab. "I speak a lot about food history in what I do. It's important to teach my guests how dishes are created. Falafel is a great example," he explains. 

One 'secret cuisine' Izzeldin is particularly passionate about is Palestinian Somi food - a term that comes from the Arab word for fasting, saum. "Nobody talks about Somi cuisine," he tells us. "The cuisine dates back thousands of years, way before the term 'veganism' was invented. This side of Palestinian cuisine is rarely highlighted."

"The dish [Rummaniyeh] carries with it a history of modern Palestine, where being a refugee has become part of our lifestyle"

A good example of a Somi dish is the Gazan speciality Rummaniyeh, a fan-favourite of Izzeldin's supper club. The vegan dish is made with lentils, eggplants, and pomegranate molasses. But, as Izzeldin tells The New Arab, there's a whole story behind this Palestinian classic. 

"Rummaniyeh is a really interesting combination of ingredients. It seems so simple. Yet when everything is combined the dish becomes a masterpiece. It's one of my favourites," Izzeldin shares, adding that his mother and grandmother used to make it for him when they'd visit Gaza.

According to the Palestinian chef, the dish came to Gaza with Palestinian refugees from the city of Ramle and quickly became a delicacy. For many, the dish holds a deep sentimental value. 

"The dish [Rummaniyeh] carries with it a history of modern Palestine, where being a refugee has become part of our lifestyle."

Izzeldin Bukhari has an enclyopoedic knowledge of Palestinian culinary traditions and history [Getty Images]
Izzeldin Bukhari has an enclyopoedic knowledge of Palestinian culinary traditions [Getty Images]

Maqluba, the Palestinian national dish, also has a rich history. Some say that Maqluba was named by Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi after he retook Jerusalem from the Crusaders. Composed of meat and fried vegetables with rice cooked in the meat's stock, the dish is served upside down, as the name suggests. For Sacred Cuisine, Izzeldin prepares a vegan version of the dish. 

Threats to Palestinian culinary heritage

Israel's ongoing onslaught in Gaza has stolen Palestinian lives, livelihoods, and food, with a video emerging of Israeli soldiers making Maqluba from ingredients left behind in a shelled home. Izzeldin is quick to highlight to The New Arab the threats of Israeli cultural and culinary theft to Palestinian heritage as a whole. 

"Maqluba is a word in Arabic and the dish originates from Palestine and Jordan. Now they talk about the dish being Israeli. They're even making commercials about it. It's a dish they talk about as theirs even though there is no proof."


A post shared by @whatthefattoush

Israel has long been accused of cultural appropriation, stealing the cultural and culinary heritage of the Levant and relabelling it as Israeli. Izzeldin believes that this is a systematic attempt to "replace the land, the people of the land and its heritage."

"Every day, there is a part of Palestine that goes missing, gets destroyed, or is fabricated," Izzeldin bemoans. 

Yalla! Let’s Eat
Live Story

Reception in Europe

Since launching Sacred Cuisine in Europe, Izzeldin has been very busy. Most of the supper clubs are fully booked and the solidarity that Izzeldin has received has been "deeply moving". In the Netherlands and Belgium, 200 and 250 people attended his cooking classes, respectively. 

Though Palestinian cuisine remains under threat from Israeli theft, Izzeldin Bukhari believes that its possible to keep the culture alive. "My experience in Europe has been great. I've been surprised to see how quickly the classes filled."

The Jerusalem-based chef will next be in the United Kingdom, Morocco and Australia as Sacred Cuisine goes global. 

Allia Bukhari is a Pakistani journalist based in Prague, Czech Republic. An Erasmus Mundus scholar, she mostly writes on women's issues and human rights

Follow her on Twitter: @alliabukhari1