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“I worry about the families in Gaza”

“I worry about the families in Gaza”

Chefs Walaa and Saeed want Stockholmers to explore Palestinian cuisine. But the past eight months have been marked by concern about the situation in Gaza. Especially for Saeed, who still has relatives there.

Chefs Saeed Al-Masry and Walaa Al-Tabakhi talk a lot about what is happening in Gaza. Saeed has relatives there.
picture: Pernilla Ahlsen

– I'm at a loss for words for what's happening. “You are very shocked,” says Walaa Al-Tabbahi.

She stands in the kitchen of Sweet o Salti on Berger Jarlsgatan in Stockholm, cooking shosh barak. They are Palestinian pies stuffed with minced beef and onions in a warm yogurt sauce and topped with parsley, garlic and pine nuts.

Walaa was born and raised in the city of Hebron in the Palestinian West Bank. When she moved to Sweden with her husband in 2015, she missed Palestinian cuisine.

Walaa Al-Tabahi is cooking in the kitchen.
Walaa Tabakhi stands in the kitchen of his restaurant and cooks shush barak. It is a type of Palestinian dumpling.

-I always loved food and was always eating out in Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah. But there were no restaurants serving traditional Palestinian food here in Stockholm. “So I decided to open my own account,” she says.

There were no restaurants serving traditional Palestinian food here in Stockholm. So I decided to open my own

Walaa Al-Tabbahi, chef and restaurant owner

Two other Palestinians also work in the restaurant. One of them is Chef Saeed Al-Masry from Gaza. The past eight months have been turbulent, especially for Saeed, who still has relatives there.

The family is helped

-We have a large family spread throughout Gaza. They helped each other during these months. Saeed says that when it is not possible to stay in one place, they move to someone else's house.

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He adds: But it is difficult.
– For a while, 50 of them lived in a small house. In Gaza, there is a shortage of everything. Money, food and medicine.

There is a shortage of everything in Gaza. Money, food and medicine.

Saeed Al-Masry, Chef

At the beginning of the year, the situation became very stressful for Saed's mother, who has cancer.
– Whenever she called her son, she cried, says Walaa.

Chef Saeed Al-Masry puts Palestinian dumplings in the kitchen.
Saeed Al-Masry started as a kitchen assistant in Gaza. He now works as a chef at Sweet o Salti restaurant in Stockholm.
Photo: Pernilla Ahlsen

In the end, Saed was able to get his mother and two younger sisters out of Gaza. In March, they crossed the border into Egypt.
-It is very expensive, you have to pay 100,000 SEK per person. But Saed’s mother needed treatment for cancer, Walaa says.

“It's chaos”

The rest of the family is still in Gaza.
– It's chaos. We want to help them but we don't know what to do. Even though I live in Sweden, I'm not rich. “I can't afford to take out all my relatives,” Saeed says.

In addition, it is difficult to stay in touch because relatives rarely have access to electricity or the Internet.

So far, Happy has been lucky. He did not lose anyone close to him. The family home still stands, although partially destroyed. But the summer house he had saved so he could buy had been bombed to the ground.

The whole community is affected

There is also concern in the West Bank.
– My mother does not dare to travel around the West Bank now. It is afraid of the settlers who make life difficult for the Palestinians. The whole community has been affected. Walaa says everyone is going through tough times financially.

We are doing great work for Palestine by spreading joy and making more people discover Palestinian food culture.

Do you talk about this a lot at work?
-We talk about it every day. I ask Saeed if he heard anything from the family and he tells me if anything happened. But then we try to be positive and focus on work.

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Chef Walaa Tabakhi stands outside Sweet o Salti restaurant in Stockholm.
Chef Walaa Al-Tabakhi takes pride in serving traditional Palestinian dishes at his restaurant Sweet o Salti in Stockholm. Photo: Pernilla Ahlsen

– We believe that we are doing a great job for Palestine by spreading joy and urging more people to discover Palestinian food culture. Walaa says: We are proud of that.

Obviously we are concerned. After all, our families are the ones there

– But obviously we are worried. After all, our families are the ones there. We feel sad when we see what happens on the news. There are a lot of people dying.

The future is uncertain

Saeed says that his mother is in better condition since coming to Egypt.
-But she's just waiting to go home again. She fears that she will not be allowed to return, and that they do not want Palestinians to live in Gaza.

What do you think about the future of Gaza?
– Everything seems uncertain. All of Gaza has been bombed. How will they be able to rebuild everything? It was difficult to live there even before.