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Msakhan: A dish at the core of Palestine

Msakhan, which literally translates to “something that is heated,” uses copious amounts of olive oil through different phases of preparation, and it is through the flavor of the msakhan that one is ab
Msakhan, which literally translates to “something that is heated,” uses copious amounts of olive oil through different phases of preparation, and it is through the flavor of the msakhan that one is able to measure the quality of any harvest. (Photos: Raja Attar/Jordan News)
The national dish of Palestine has risen in popularity as a regional favorite. The origins of msakhan begin in the area around Toulkarem and Jenin, where some of the world’s finest olive oil is produced. The dish is traditionally prepared between August and October during the harvest season, but it has become an anytime, any season, local favorite.اضافة اعلان


Msakhan, which literally translates to “something that is heated,” uses copious amounts of olive oil through different phases of preparation, and it is through the flavor of the msakhan that one is able to measure the quality of any harvest. (Photos: Raja Attar/Jordan News)

Msakhan, which literally translates to “something that is heated,” is quite simply hearty. It uses copious amounts of olive oil through different phases of preparation, and it is through the flavor of the msakhan that one is able to measure the quality of any harvest.

Olive oil carries the stories of how olive trees date back to Biblical times, of how families name their trees after their newborn children, of how picking olives is a festive family affair, and most importantly, of how olives and olive oil symbolize the essence of the land itself.

Even without knowing the story, the dish makes complete sense. Every bite is a moist bundle of crispy skinned chicken, red-violet wads of translucent onions, and tender bread that soaks the oil and the chicken renderings. Almost every msakhan that I have had the privilege of eating is garnished with toasted pine nuts and almonds. The final effect is undoubtedly rich, rustic, fatty, and comforting — there is nothing quite like it.

High quality oil should have a higher smoke point and does not change color or produce a bitter taste when it’s heated to prepare the meal. One can only imagine the farmers’ stress while waiting for the results of the season’s first msakhan.

Planting olive trees takes patience. They usually take 6-8 years to regularly bear fruit, and then another 65-80 years to reach stable yields. This means that olive farms are usually passed down from one generation to the next. There is no wonder farmers have such an immense love for the land; their entire livelihood relies on their olive production to sustain themselves until next year’s harvest.

The bread has a story of its own, where the female relatives of a new bride help build the oven so the bride may feed her family for years to come.

In the earlier days, the olive oil sector was much more active, with an estimated 285 mills at one point, a sign of a prosperous trade. Today there is an estimated 12 million olive trees in Palestine. Some of the main varieties grown in Palestine are nabali, suri, and mallisi.

The presence of the Israeli occupation has played a role in the sharp decrease in olive oil trade; olive farms were confiscated or occupied for the construction of farmhouses and illegal settlements. Trees over 100 years old have also been uprooted in the past few years. And so, from being one of the largest olive oil producing countries, production in Palestine, along with the country, slipped into crisis.

Yet, through it all, thick or thin, msakhan will always reflect the strength and resilience of its people. It is more than just a simple dish, it is a way of gauging one’s connection with the land.

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