In the summer of 2015, Hasan, student at the Faculty of Medicine in Tuzla, Bosnia, visited Maastricht city for a weekend. He immediately loved the atmosphere, the old buildings and architecture and has plans to return some day. Even though he is very busy with his final assignments before graduating this year, Hasan also manages a Facebook page about Palestinian food that has close to 55,000 followers. “I’m Palestinian and originally from Gaza, but I moved to Bosnia six years ago to study medicine. At the time, I wanted to help and heal people, and I thought becoming a doctor would be the best way to achieve that.”
Hasan has a passion for food and cooking. It started a couple of years ago, when he was asked to help manage a Facebook page about Palestinian food. He contributed by finding recipes, photographs and articles about the authentic Palestinian cuisine and he created posts in both English and Arabic. Soon, the page was all his to maintain, and its popularity grew. “Especially in tough times, people look for something to keep their mind off the heartache and violence and destruction. Cooking food brings comfort, and hospitality and eating together with family and friends is one of the characteristics in our culture,” Hasan recalls. A good meal doesn’t have to be expensive, or consist of many courses. Sometimes the most simple dish can bring the highest joy.
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Hummus and za’atar
Hummus, pita bread, olive oil and za’atar. Some olives, some homemade cheese, and you’re in heaven. Together with his friend Nura Muharemagic, a freelance chef who also hosts workshops, Hasan expanded his culinary adventures. They made pita and hummus live in the studio for a television network and combined their skills and creativity preparing finger food for a group of people.
“It was a great experience and fun to do,” Hasan says with a smile. “I never thought it would mean that much to me, for people to really appreciate my efforts in the kitchen and value what Nura and I created for them. I learned that I really love to make people happy, and good food is what makes people happy.”
In his spare time, Hasan is becoming quite the entrepreneur. Encouraged by his successful collaborations with Nura (it actually just started as helping out), Hasan decided to launch a website of his own, along with some friends: Bitesmind.
Food connects people
“Bitesmind is for recipes from back home and my own mixture of recipes and culinary influences, and good quality spices and ingredients. But it’s also for reviews when I visit restaurants. A few months ago I went to Berlin, and I had contacted several restaurants beforehand who then invited me to visit and try some of their dishes and menu. I met many people and made new friends, new contacts for the future. Because I definitely want to continue with my passion for cooking and food.”
Ottolenghi and Tamimi
“One of my examples is Yotam Ottolenghi, a British chef and writer of cookbooks. He is actually Israeli from Italian descent, and his background shows in his recipes. He knows how to blend ingredients and flavors in such innovative ways. I like that he had a totally different career at first, but somehow found his way to his true passion. I can certainly relate to that. I also like that food transcends politics. Ottolenghi is Israeli, but his business partner Sami Tamimi is Palestinian. They’re both from Jerusalem but didn’t meet until they both had moved to London in the UK.”
Joudie Kalla – Palestine on a Plate
“Another chef I admire a lot is Joudie Kalla, she is Palestinian and her cookbook Palestine on a Plate is to die for. My friends gave me this book for my birthday, and I have already made various recipes such as the honey dumplings, and the handbag bread, also known as Ka’ak Al Quds, or Jerusalem bread. Joudie Kalla even reposted my photo of the bread I made after the recipe from her book, on Instagram! That was really amazing and encouraging.”
For his second trip to Maastricht, Hasan would definitely want to check out the local international cuisine. “If there are restaurants who’d like us to visit them and write a review for Bitesmind or the Palestinian Food page, they can contact me via the Bitesmind website,” Hasan explains. “I am looking forward to coming to Maastricht again and get to know the city better, and enjoy its hospitality, and food of course!”