A lesser-known cousin of falafel, kubbeh, meaning ‘ball’ in Palestinian Arabic, is made of a delicious mixture of ground beef or lamb, bulgar wheat, onions and fragrant middle eastern spices, rolled into a ball and deep fried. Popular all over the Levant, and considered a national dish of Syria and Lebanon – having originated in Aleppo – kubbeh has in fact its own twist in Palestine, for example kubbeh from Nablus is much bigger, and formed of a thick crust of bulgar wheat enveloping a tasty centre of spiced meat.
A breakfast staple throughout the Levant, and often referred to as a Middle Eastern pizza, manqousheh is a flat bread usually topped with salty cheese, or olive oil and za’atar (thyme). Many street food manqousheh stalls have a traditional brick tanour oven, into which the vendor will toss the discs of fresh dough until they become perfectly plump and the cheese melts, before rolling them up ready to eat on the go. Other more modern bakeries might sell pizza-style breads filled with a variety of meats and veg. Either way, manqousheh is always a cheap, tasty and filling alternative to a falafel sandwich.
If you’re after a quick snack, look out for one of the widespread sweet corn carts. Serving up cups of hot, buttered, salty and spiced corn, or a simple corn on the cob, these carts are found in every Palestinian city and offer a quick fix for hungry travellers. Costing only a handful of shekels, these are also a budget-friendly option, sure to hit the sweet (corn) spot.
Take a morning stroll in East Jeruslam, and you will no doubt come across the mountains of oblong-shaped bread rings piled up in every bakery and roadside stall. These are ka’ak bel sim sim, traditionally eaten by Jerusalemites at breakfast time, dipped in a classic combination of zeit w za’atar – olive oil and dried thyme. Their crunchy outside and soft interior are much-loved by Jerusalemites as well as Palestinians all over the West Bank, and are a great way to fuel a day of sight seeing in the holy city.
Although not strictly a Palestinian street food dish, tiny stalls serving up these sticks of fried potato deliciousness can be found all over East Jerusalem and other West Bank cities. A treat for the eyes as well as the taste buds, watch as the potato is spiralised into a perfect slinky-shaped swirl before being skewered and deep-fried. When crispy, the hot potato swirl is smothered in salt and spices, perfect for a late-night salt fix after a few taybehs.
Often eaten during Ramadan to break the fast, qatayef – or ‘atayef – are mini pancake-style desserts usually filled with cheese or a mixture of nuts, sugar and spices, before being sealed up, fried again, and then doused in sweet syrup. If you find yourself in Bethlehem during Ramadan, the Mahsiry Qatayef shop on the Hebron Road serves up famously good pancakes. In Nazareth however, you can get your qatayef fix outside of the holy month, at Deran al-Seraya in the Old City.
The most famous Palestinian dessert however, is the ubiquitous kunafeh. Thought to have originated in Nablus, the dish combines pastry, either made of shredded vermicelli noodles or semolina, cooked in butter and covered with mild, stringy cheese, and topped with more pastry. It is served soaked in sweet syrup with a scattering of pistachio nuts. Strange as the combination of vermicelli, syrup and cheese may sound, kunafeh makes for the perfect fusion of rich and sweet, warm, soft and crunchy. If you are in Nablus, the kunafeh at al-Aqsa in the Old City is famous all over Palestine – look out for the huge, round trays of yellow pastry. Fawanees in Bethlehem and Jaffar Sweets in Jerusalem also make mouth-watering versions.