Syrian refugee brings the taste of home to Gaza

Published June 20, 2022
Syrian refugee Anas Qaterji works in his restaurant.—Reuters
Syrian refugee Anas Qaterji works in his restaurant.—Reuters

GAZA CITY: Anas Qaterji fled Syria when civil war broke out in 2011 and snuck into Gaza, a land with its own history of war and poverty, where he has gained a large following among foodies crazy for the spicy cooking he brought from home.

Qaterji, 36, crossed into Gaza from Egypt through one of the many tunnels used to smuggle goods into the enclave, which is home to 2.3 million Palestinians, about half of whom live in poverty. Life in the first few years was tough.

“I was sleeping in the street in 2014, I was homeless until a family took me in. I worked and I didn’t succeed, so I worked harder to get to where I am now,” Qaterji said as the United Nations marks world refugee day.

The United Nations say around 5.6 millions of Syrians have fled the civil war since it began in 2011. Most found refuge in neighbouring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

Only 30 or so Syrians fled to Gaza, itself a place where most people are refugees, or descendants of refugees, from the 1948 war of Israel’s foundation, which Palestinians still regard as a catastrophe.

“You may say madness, adventure or gambling, but I came here to search for life amid death,” Qaterji said.

Eventually he got a job in a kitchen and began working his way up in the local food scene, gaining acclaim for two specialities in particular: a Syrian version of shawarma served on a bed of rice and sprinkled with toasted nuts, and his famous garlic cream.

After working as lead chef at a number of restaurants, he decided to open his own place in 2020, naming it “Al-Halabi” in reference to his home city of Aleppo which has suffered major destruction in the war.

Published in Dawn,June 20th, 2022

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