Fadi Kattan: A dish for dawn

Fadi Kattan: A dish for dawn

Originally published in Apartamento magazine issue #33


When I think of kitchens, my mind splits between the warm nostalgia of home kitchens and the efficiency of colossal metallic restaurant kitchens, one a living spice master’s cave, the other an almost clinical, cold, stainless-steel temple. What a dilemma.

My first memories are of my grandmother Julia’s kitchen, of the three-seater table where we sat near the cupboard with the zaatar and zeit bowls with dibes and tahinia within reach. For breakfast, my grandmother fried eggs in olive oil for me and my grandfather. 

Her kitchen fascinated me; it had a first room with a sink, a fridge, cupboards, and a marble counter, which led to a second room with the stove, the oven, another sink, that small table, and a door to an exterior balcony with a barbecue. Years and years later, I realised that her kitchen was divided in the most logical way possible. A first room where produce arrived, was washed, and stored, which later doubled as the space where all the food was plated and sent off to the dining room. The second room was where all the cooking happened. This sanctum sanctorum held the table where very few were allowed to eat. It always felt magical to be in that space where my Teta Julia would often honour me with a spoonful of what she was preparing, teaching me with a continuous stream of stories about the family, about Bethlehem, about Palestine, about antiquities and art. 

I cannot speak of a singular kitchen that was my mother’s, as I was born in a home they rented, and we moved around until we finally landed in the home my parents built. In every one of those spaces, there was the secret stash of coffee and chocolate for middle-of-the-night emergencies. I inherited fabulous recipes from my mother, a love for good food, and that habit of waking just before dawn, having a coffee, some chocolate, and going back to sleep. We also both happen to be smokers, a weakness frowned upon by the rest of the family. Often, the only place we can enjoy a secret cigarette together is in the kitchen, windows wide open in the middle of winter. I now live in my great-grandparent’s home, with a kitchen that was once my paternal grandmother Emilie’s. Every nook and cranny is familiar; when I moved in, I simply changed the tiles on the walls and the location of the sink. All else stayed the same, and the marble countertops are way too high for most people at 110cm, rather than the standard 90cm. I take this as a gentle reminder from my ancestors that I am neither the first tall one in the family nor the first to experience atrocious back pains when I use a kitchen elsewhere.

When the pandemic hit and sent Bethlehem and the world into stillness, I needed a space to cook that was not my home’s kitchen—a place I could test recipes, make a mess, and film, as cooking became an online sensation. I had a room opening onto my home’s terrace that was unused. I set out to transform this space into a test kitchen within a week. The insanity of wanting to meet some deadline—unrelated to any reality—formed in my brain. Paint scraped off, historic stone revealed, stainless steel tables brought in, a hole through a metre-wide wall to connect gas, et voilà!

Understanding a kitchen is understanding a family’s social relations, their sacred moments, their rhythm of life. The kitchen is a place where we assemble, where we celebrate food, where we enjoy late-night guilty pleasures, a place of labaneh or some malfouf stolen cold from the fridge. In my latest book, Bethlehem: A Celebration of Palestinian Food, I stepped back into my mind’s earliest kitchens, to some of my tongue’s first memories:

Apartamento Magazine - Fadi Kattan: A dish for dawn

Eggs in Samneh with Sumac


1 tbsp samneh (ghee)

4 eggs

1 generous pinch of ground sumac

1 pinch of salt


Heat the samneh in a pan over medium-high heat until liquid and bubbly. Crack the eggs into the pan and leave to cook until the egg whites are set, 3 minutes. With a spoon, slowly baste the egg whites until the sides are crispy. Serve on two plates sprinkled with sumac and salt.

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