Hajji Um Farouk Shehadeh (al-Bassa)

Q: Which village are you from?

A: I am originally Lebanese, but I was raised in Palestine, in al-Bassa.

Q:  How old were you when you left Palestine?

A: 15 years old

Q: So you knew the dishes and how to cook?

A: Yes, everything.

Q: You weren’t yet married?

A: No, I got married here. I got married in 1952. We left in 1948. I was born in 1932.

Q: What were the dishes that you cooked mostly in al-Bassa? Did every area have a dish it was famous for?

A: They cooked everything.

Q: Like what?

A: Muhammar [1] and moghrabieh and kibbeh — these are the winter dishes And in the summer vegetables like mloukhieh, fried eggplant — and also muhammar. And in the season of olives, they would make a dish called dakanin, like a loaf of bread — here they call it mana’ish— in Palestine, in al-Bassa, they called it dakanin. The people of Kwaykat called it msakhan. Every village had a name for it. This dish was popular in winter, in the olive season. They pounded onions, peppers, and harr,[2] and olive oil all together, they put them all together, and went to the bakery. They rolled the dough, flour, wheat, and they divided the dough in small portions, and cut in it and filled it with pepper and onion. This was what they called dakanin. This dish is very tasty. I still remember it. But here we don’t make it.

Q: You don’t make it here?

A: Here no. Here they do mana’ish, a whole or a small loaf, they soften the dough and make it. But over there, no, they mixed wheat flour and corn flour, and shaped the dough in small pieces like this, but thick, and they filled them with pepper, onion and olive oil. And they make a big meal, a feast like they say. This is a famous dish in al-Bassa. Kwaykat people call it khubz musakhan [‘hot bread’]. I learned it when we got married and came here. Now in Palestine, there is still khubz musakhan, only it is different from the one we used to make. They add chicken to it — they put chicken on top of the loaf, and add pepper and spices. When we went to Palestine, to your aunt Rasmiyeh, she made this dish for us. They baked small rounds of bread on the stove, and added to it hot pepper and minced meat. Then they added pieces of fried chicken on top, and put it in the oven. They call it khubz musakhan. They also added sumak — very tasty!

Q: So this is the famous dish of al-Bassa – musakhan – which people talk about until now.

A: Ah!

Q: What did you cook at weddings?

A: At weddings they killed sheep, and cooked mansaf. I don’t know what they called it in Palestine, now here we call it mansaf, They would kill seven to ten sheep, depending on the means of the groom’s parents, and they invited people of the village and their surroundings. And every village would come with a sheep, and bags of rice, and packs of coffee. They made the pack out of straw like this paper, they wove it and filled it with coffee and brought it with them.

Q: Like a basket?

A: Yes. The people who were invited didn’t show up with empty hands. They came all together, not each person on his own, and they brought with them livestock. This is how it was in Palestine. The groom’s family would have been up all night cooking and baking. The day before they baked bread on the saj, and made noodles by hand. They baked a whole sack of flour, they made the dough and invited all the girls of the village. They came and stayed up all night to make noodles and dry them, and the next day they cooked them. We didn’t have ready-made noodles in Palestine , they used to be handmade. They stayed up all night to roll them. And on the wedding day they cooked them with rice and put pine seeds and almonds on top.

Q: And in time of pilgrimage, what did you cook?

A: There were few who went on the pilgrimage. People went with the pilgrim to bid him farewell in a part of al-Bassa called Dahra al-Musherafieh where there was an open space like a park. People went all the way there with the pilgrims, all the village went with them. When they came back, they went to meet them there too.

Q: What did they cook?

A: Just like the wedding dishes, they made mansef, each one depending on his means.

Q: What did you cook for the feasts?

A: We grilled meat, and baked cakes, and made blouza. This blouza, sweetheart, what do we call it now? – it’s not muhallabieh — it’s made out of water, sugar and starch — we called it blouza. They made it and took it to the cemetery, also yellow cakes and white cakes. White cakes are the ones that we make now, stuffed with dates and walnuts; and yellow cakes — they made lots of those.

Q: This blouza, did you add walnuts to it?

A: Yes, we add walnuts now. In Palestine we didn’t. They made it and they ate it with yellow cakes.

Q: And when a woman gave birth?

A: They made moghleh. They boiled cinnamon, ginger and anise. The people of the village came, and they hosted them.  They congratulated them, and they offered sweets, and Tuurkish delight, if it’s an arus (bridegroom), meaning a boy. People lived simply, unlike these days when everything is given so much importance. People lived happily. The custom was that they visited a woman who had given birth, also newlyweds. They did a zaffeh for the groom in the morning, and stayed up all night at the groom’s parents’ house, or they would be invited to his maternal or parental uncle for a sahra.[3]

Q: And at the time for the bride’s visit to her parents?

A: The groom’s parents would again bring sweets for the bride to take to her parents’ house.

Q: What kind of sweets did you take?

A: Sweets that people bought. Some people baked cakes that she took to her parents, some people bought, and some baked, depending on the means of the groom’s parents. She’d take a slaughtered sheep with her. Her parents would have prepared food too, and all the groom’s family would come with them, she didn’t go alone. No, all the groom’s family would come, his mother, his father, his siblings and sisters-in-law — they ate lunch together and left. The bride would stay at her parent’s house for a week and when she went back they sent with her presents such as she had brought – sheep, cakes — that she took to her in-laws. She didn’t go empty handed. Whatever gifts she would have got in cash, her parents would buy her gold, and clothes for her to take to her in-laws.

Q: When someone got sick, what did you do?

A:  All the village paid a visit to anyone who was sick, unlike nowadays. The people of the village visited him, they paid him a courtesy visit, they’d call it ‘yashuqq alay’. They visited him and took something. If he needed something they made it for him.

Q: I mean what kind of medicine did you get him?

A: No, there weren’t organizations to help like today

Q: I mean you, his family, didn’t you make him something?

A: If he needed a doctor, the people of the house would take him to the doctor. And we made zoufa [hyssop] — they called it ashbat al-blat [herb of the flagstone]. They also brought fruits. Palestine wasn’t like these days. When someone got sick they brought him a gift of fruits, because fruits were rare in Palestine – also desserts. Sicknesses weren’t like nowadays; nowadays diseases have increased.

Q: What did you cook in Ramadan?

A:  We made everything. Our families would make any tasty dish. In summer there wasn’t air conditioning. For the suhoor, they would go up to the roofs of old buildings. The roofs were earth. They put up tents, and they called it ‘arisheh .[4] They cut carob branches; they went to the valleys to cut carobs, and brought them to make tree houses. Kids would sleep outside and the woman and her husband inside the tree house, because it wouldn’t be decent for a woman to sleep uncovered on the roof open to everyone. They took prickly pears and melons with them. We slept up there only when Ramadan was in summer.

Q: Weren’t there any special dishes that you cooked in Ramadan?

A: No, like nowadays, they made all the tasty dishes in Ramadan, like muhammar, kibbeh. They cooked everything in special trays that they put in the ovens on wood. The women would go at noon to the bakery. And they made soup, and lots of food — the person who fasts needs a variety of dishes.

Q: And when someone died, what food did you make?

A: Just like at weddings, the ones with means would slaughter sheep, and all the village would come to condole. And they made a circle.

Q: What sort of circle?

A: A circle means that all the women of the village would come, and they would make a circle, just like a dancing circle only this one was called a wailing circle, and they wailed and they spoke.

Q: What did they say?

A: They spoke about the dead. If it was a young man they would speak of him like a bridegroom. If it was an old man they would give him his worth. They came to condole. Al-Bassa was half Christian and half Muslim, the Christians condoled with the Muslims, and the Muslims with the Christians. And in weddings the same thing, they would take the groom to circle around the whole village, from his parent’s house to the road that circled the whole village, through the Muslim and Christian quarters. He went on horseback with all the men and youths behind him, and old men. They would hold hands in a line that they called sahjeh,[5] and clapped for him, and women would dance in the middle holding kawanin.

Q: What are kawanin?

A: A kanoun was a small container for burning incense. They put them on their heads and danced, and exchanged places, and continued dancing. It was nice, people were polite with one another. People in al-Bassa considered themselves as one family. In weddings they congratulated each other.Christians condoled with Muslims if someone died, and Muslims the same.

Q: Did anyone help in times of condolence or at weddings? Did they hire anyone?

A: No they didn’t hire anyone. The older women made the food and cooked.

Q: So they didn’t pay them?

A: No, they didn’t pay a wage. A woman would come without invitation. They would be killing the sheep and cooking food — they stayed up until morning, the food on the fire. They would set up tables in an open space and all families would eat. And if someone had a leader in his family, people would welcome him in the street. They would set up tables, and the street crier would call people in the area, saying “Bread oh hungry ones, water for the thirsty!” All the people in the village would eat, no one needed an invitation. Everyone in al-Bassa got along with one another.

Q: How about poor people, was their food different from that of the rich, or the same?

A: Each one calculated his means. The difference was a matter of means, whether someone had a good situation or not. There were butchers in the area, poor people would buy meat once a week, and rich people would buy meat every day. Everyone according to his means.

Q: The food of the rich was different from the food of the poor?

A: No, people ate together, and cooked the same way. Only the rich were different, they could afford to kill more livestock, and cook more. People weren’t snobbish towards each other — everyone according to his capacities, no one criticized others. It was “This one is a worker” or “That one works in a plantation, he doesn’t have the means of a landlord”. Al-Bassa was all gardens. The land of Musherefieh was all gardens and wells, with a motor to water the trees. Income was higher than for those who worked for other people. Everybody lived according to his means. Nobody criticized anyone – “Why didn’t someone do that”? No, they would excuse him, that is his capacity, that’s how much he can do, he cannot afford… no one would criticize him.

Q: How did you speak? Did every area have its own accent?

A: Every area had its own accent. Like people in al-Bassa talk differently from people in al-Zib, though al-Zib is not far from al-Bassa. The people of Tarshiha are different. Around al-Bassa there are the villages of al-Kabri and Samayrieh, near al-Zib.

Q: How did you tell them apart?

A: Al-Bassa people drew out their speech. The people of Tarshiha and al-Zib expanded their words. Speech differed from one village to another. They said it was from the water. Old women said that a person’s accent was according to the water they drank. In al-Bassa there was a deep well, 24 baa’ down, a baa’ is more than a meter.[6] It was the well from which all the people of the village drank. We lifted up buckets with ropes. It was called Ayn Jdideh. They said that they were going to make a fence around it, and a cover. But people left and they hadn’t finished. They were afraid that someone would fall. Once a woman did fall; she was bending over to get the bucket, and she fell in.

Q: What was the difference in accent [between the villages]?

A: People from Qibla pronounced the qaf.  People from al-Zib, al-Bassa, Samayrieh, al-Kabri, Faraj and Nahr, talked like we talk now, that’s how they talked. But people from Qibla, around Yafa and Bir Saba’, and the areas inside, they pronounced the qaf.

Q: Were there words that you said differently? Or were the words the same?

A: The same words, only they pronounced the qaf. But we followed the people of ‘Alout, ‘Alout in the province of Nasra [Nazareth]. They pronounced the qaf, like ‘qal’, and ‘qulna’ – like that – so they spoke depending on the area, us and the Jalil province, the areas that I told you, the Jalil province, from al-Kabri and beyond they called it Qibla.

Q: Do you still talk the same way? Or have some words changed?

A: We think that we still talk in the same way, but when we went to Palestine during the invasion, to my cousin, we felt that the dialect was different. They still have their old way of speech, but we no. Our accent is closer to the Lebanese. We don’t feel that we talk Lebanese, but when you hear them talking there you can tell the difference

Q: Are there some words that you said in Palestine and that changed when you came to Lebanon, like ma’alaqa?

A: Yes. Now here we call it sahn. For ma’alaqa, they said zalafeh. They called the plate istiyeh. I don’t know much because I didn’t mix with other people. Our family didn’t take us to other areas. But people from the Jalil province pronounced the qaf.

Q:  When you wanted to praise someone, what did you say?

A: We said “Wallah this person is good”, or “sakhi sakhi”, meaning generous. And if you got mad with someone you said “You have no family”, “You don’t deal well with people”, and things like that. Like they say, a ‘polite cursing’. But we didn’t have this in al-Bassa. People loved each other — Christians and Muslims were one family.

Once men had a quarrel in Musherefieh. It was the feast of the Cross, and men and women, Christians and Muslims, went to Musherefieh. It was all plantations. People went there from the end of the world — all the way from Nasra, they came to al-Bassa.

One day we were at the sea, girls and women swimming, and as we were coming out of the sea we heard a commotion, and people were upset. “What’s going on?” They said the people of al-Bassa are fighting, Christian men with Muslim men. And after that there was hatred between people, and they complained against each other. My brother Mohammad and Shaker my cousin were among them.  They came and complained against them. They had already registered their names at work – they worked in a British area – because they didn’t want to lose their daily salary. So that’s how they helped each other. They said, “We don’t know anything, we were at work”. Soon after this people left Palestine.[7]


[1] [1] Muhammar and musakhan are both famous Palestinian dishes made with chicken.  Musakhan is linked to the Ramallah area: chicken is baked under layers of chopped onion, red peppers, some olive oil, and sprinkled with sumak, which gives it its distinctive red colouring and taste. It should be cooked in a taboon, and eaten with special bread.  Muhammar is more characteristic of Galilee: chicken is baked with layers of sliced onion, red peppers, potatoes, and plenty of olive oil.

[2] Made from hot red peppers, harr is either a powder or a thick sauce used to season stews.

[3] A sahra is when family and friends sit up together for an evening’s entertainment.

[4]  Tree houses put up in summer to guard fruit orchards were called arisheh or aghzal.

[5] The sahjeh was a traditional dance done only at weddings.

[6]  A baa’ is a measure of distance that is no longer used.

[7] This is a rather free translation of an anecdote that isn’t very clear. 


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