When the Mama restaurant group hosts a fundraiser for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF) later this month at its commissary kitchen, it will be the most prominent effort yet by the Seattle business to aid humanitarian efforts in Gaza. But it will also be a rare culinary event in that Palestinian American chef Nadia Tommalieh will be highlighting Gazan cuisine specifically.
“When I think of Gazan cuisine, what immediately comes to mind are the bold and vibrant flavors,” Tommalieh tells Eater Seattle in an email. “Some standout dishes include the hearty and zesty fogaiyyeh (a lemony chard stew with chickpeas and rice), the flavorful rumaniyyeh (a stew featuring lentils, eggplant, and pomegranate), and the aromatic sumagiyyeh (a stew with sumac, chard, and lamb).” One element that sets Gazan food apart from the rest of the region, Tommalieh writes, is the prominence of seafood — a benefit of Gaza’s coastal location — and hot chiles.
“This penchant for spiciness is so iconic in Gaza that it’s renowned for its ‘filfil mathoon sandwich,’ a flatbread or sandwich made entirely from crushed and fermented red chili paste. This spicy delight is beloved by many, including schoolchildren,” Tommalieh writes.
During Tommalieh’s 40-seat dinner, on Saturday, February 24, guests will be served a four-course meal that includes rumaniyyeh as an option, as well as zibdiyit gambari (a spicy shrimp and tomato bake) and ka’ak asawer (Palestinian date cookies). Tickets — available here — are $250 per person, and the entire cost of the ticket will be donated to the PCRF, which provides medical care to children in Palestine.
The event isn’t just a celebration of Gazan food and culture, it’s an effort to help a traumatized region. Since October 7, when Hamas launched attacks against Israel — killing 1,200 and taking more than 240 hostages — Israel’s counteroffensive has resulted in over 27,000 deaths, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. Though negotiations over a temporary ceasefire have progressed, the conflict is ongoing and health workers report that the area is on the brink of famine.
Between October and January, the Mama restaurant group — best known for the Capitol Hill restaurant Mamnoon and South Lake Union’ MBar — has raised over $13,000 for the PCRF and Doctor’s Without Borders, it said, largely by donating proceeds from specific menu items and participating in the November fundraiser for PCRF started by Yalla chef Taylor Cheney. This sort of work is interwoven into what Mama does, said Azmi Haroun, the group’s marketing manager and the son of founders Wassef and Racha Haroun.
“We’ve done a lot of humanitarian fundraisers for refugees in the region over the years, with our family being part Syrian and with both of my parents having fled Syria and Lebanon in the 1980s,” Azmi wrote in an email. “Uplifting humanitarian causes in our communities is very near and dear to our hearts.”
Mama describes its restaurants as offering a “modern take on Levantine dining,” which encompasses a range of different cuisines. “The ancient culinary traditions around olives, chickpeas, wild spices, pickling and preservation methods, flatbreads are nearly identical across Levantine cuisines,” Azmi told Eater Seattle. But there are lots of differences between what is traditionally eaten in Gaza versus what is eaten in Lebanon, for example, even if some diners ordering shawarma aren’t aware of them.
“The event with Nadia is another opportunity to educate folks about the wrinkles within Levantine cuisines,” Azmi said.
The fundraiser dinner will be held on Saturday, February 24, at Manna, at 446 Terry Avenue in South Lake Union, with seatings at 5 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets and a sample menu can be found here.