Solidarity is also served at Palestinian Filipino food line

Solidarity is also served at Palestinian Filipino food line
A child reaches for a heart-shaped balloon at Our Little Gaza Kitchen, a pop-up food bazaar in Quezon City by Palestinian refugees who fled Gaza from Israel’s genocidal occupation. —RAFFY LERMA

After attending the Veneration of the Cross at the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Parish of the Holy Sacrifice on Good Friday, I went straight to Our Little Gaza Kitchen in Don Antonio Heights, Quezon City. 

The event was announced online a few days earlier and shared by over 100 within hours. It was pegged to run from Holy Thursday to Black Saturday, but organizers decided to hold it on the day Christ was nailed to a cross and died.

The security guard at Don Antonio Heights advised me to take the long way around to get to the venue, remarking on the motor traffic quickly a-building. 

Clearly an independent effort, Our Little Gaza Kitchen had not anticipated the huge turnout and hired no additional hands. It was scheduled at 4-6 p.m.; I arrived just a little past 5. A friend messaged me that she had to leave her father for errands at the food line that was already snaking through the narrow and poorly ventilated compound mostly made of concrete and painted a dull yellow. 

Laughing children ran around waving balloons and plastic bags, shouting at each other in a mix of English, Filipino and Arabic. Perhaps they were excited by the multitude suddenly gathering in their compound on that sweltering March afternoon. They imitated the adults selling food inside: “Twenty pesos, mango juice! One fifty, chicken biryani! MasarapMasarap (Delicious)!”

Nords Maguindanao, a bearded man in a white shirt and the event manager from the Moro-Palestinian Cooperation Team, tried to keep the crowd traffic in check, telling us that we could skip the line if we wanted to try the desserts first. He said the biryani had run out and a fresh batch was still being cooked. 

Free dates were offered to those waiting for the food replenishments.

To practice Iftar

Little Gaza Kitchen
Servings at the Palestinian Filipino community food line. —PHOTOS BY JOPIE SANCHEZ

Later I asked Nords how the event came about. He said it was more than a means to make money for rebuilding their lives. For them, it was to practice Iftar in the middle of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan: breaking their fast by giving charity to those who are fasting. At the same time, it was to help Palestinian families forced to flee Israel’s ongoing strikes on Gaza. 

Wishing to pry further, I walked around the venue and found Gabes Torres, one of the contact persons mentioned in the online posters. She said the idea for the event arose when she and her friends were celebrating her birthday. Back then A Taste of Gaza, a small kitchen run by Palestinian refugees in Quezon City, had already been cooking and selling food, but Gabes and her friends thought more interaction with a wider public was needed.  

So they got the word out and raised the funds to start a bigger kitchen. The Palestinian Filipino mothers organized large-scale cookouts. 

One mother recalled that when they arrived in the Philippines—“Nung umuwi kami rito”—“we found it a bit difficult to look for the spices that we cooked with in Gaza.”

“Until, Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), we encountered Shopee,” she said. 

I asked what adjustments they have had to make in cooking Palestinian dishes for Filipinos. She said it was mostly that Filipinos do not cook with as many spices as she and the others did in Gaza. 

“My favorite dish is mandi, which is smoke-flavored rice with either chicken or beef. My mother-in-law taught me that dish,” she said.

To fly back home

at Our Little Gaza Kitchen
Sharing food and stories at Our Little Gaza Kitchen

This was all jarring to me, but in a good way. In the past six months, we have been flooded with images of shattered lives, destroyed homes, and dead children in Palestine. There was not a single image of Palestinians celebrating their birthdays, ordering from Shopee, cooking for big crowds, or even just enjoying a meal.

Nords told me that if peace ever comes to Palestine, the refugees in Quezon City would want to fly back to their home. (Surprisingly, a representative of the Department of Foreign Affairs has supposedly expressed to them that the Philippine government is willing to support their repatriation.)  

Many of Our Little Gaza Kitchen’s cooks are Filipino women married to Palestinian men who came to the Philippines in the ’80s and ’90s to study. The women lived different lives in Gaza; cooking 20 meals per order is not their default expertise. It surprised them that so many Filipinos, especially non-Muslims, came to Our Little Gaza Kitchen that afternoon.

“We hope that Filipinos will get to know us and like us. Maybe we can put up more branches or pop-ups like Gaza Kitchen,” the Palestinian Filipino mother told me. “Inshallah (If Allah wills it), this would be a way for us to start anew here. Kasi, sa totoo lang po, wala na po kaming babalikan (To be honest, there’s nothing for us to go back to there).” 

The reflections of Fr. Bong Tupino for Maundy Thursday and Fr. Jomari Aragones for Good Friday centered on feet—our service to others through Christ’s washing of feet and our commitment to struggle with others, using our feet to walk and to show up for our different causes. 

When I was writing this on Easter Sunday, with the news tuned to Al Jazeera, the reports were about protesters in London calling for an end to Israel’s attacks on Gaza and protesters in Tel Aviv condemning Netanyahu for his failure to bring the Israeli hostages home; about the oldest Catholic communities celebrating Masses in a starved and darkened Palestine; and about 17 more added to the dead in Israel’s genocide in Gaza. 

Some say that there is no genocide, that there are many complexities to this war, and that we all have our own interests in it, in one way or another. But Our Little Gaza Kitchen was something that would not have even materialized had the world been fair. There is little to argue about when someone who lost their home to foreign occupation serves you food and tells you that maybe she could keep doing it until they find home again.

For orders and other news about pop-up Palestinian kitchens, follow A Taste of Gaza–Palestinian Food in Quezon City on Facebook. 

DLS Pineda is a lecturer at the University of the Philippines Diliman and the secretary general of the Human Rights and People Empowerment Center. He plays bass and rides a bike to work most of the time.

Read more: End Israeli apartheid in the West Bank and Gaza, and free Palestine

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