How UK fell in love with Palestinian food

June 5, 2024

Zaytoun at 20: Gemma Bell is a star of the food and hospitality industry, and with her team at Gemma Bell and Company has been a driving force behind getting Palestine food on the map here in UK. She has a passion for Palestine and we’re so grateful for everything she’s done to raise awareness of Zaytoun.

What sparked your passion for Palestine and Palestinian food?
I fell in love with Palestine and its food at my first bite of the very best falafel I have ever had at Afteem’s in Bethlehem, after running the Right to Movement half marathon in 2016. It was my first visit to Palestine and I can easily say that the trip, with Amos Trust, changed my life. Since then I have been back to the West Bank many times and each time my passion for the place grows. Through meeting producers, farmers and chefs, community and charity leaders, through walking the streets of Bethlehem and the countryside, through harvesting olives and being treated to a Palestinian picnic lunch in an olive grove, I have been moved to campaign for justice for the people of Palestine and tell everyone I meet about the produce, food and wonders of the place.

What is your proudest Palestinian moment?
I’m not sure I have a particular proudest moment, I have so many! It could be running my first ever half marathon in Bethlehem, meeting young people in Aida Refugee Camp, joining Amos Trust’s Walk to Jerusalem in 2017 or organising for a group of British journalists to go to the West Bank in 2019, which resulted in significant editorial coverage for Zaytoun and for those in the food world in Palestine.

Who are the key players in creating the following Palestinian food enjoys today in the UK?

A number of chefs have published cookbooks on Palestinian cuisine and who have been at the forefront on educating the British public on the food of Palestine, but there are two that stand out amongst the others. Firstly, Sami Tamimi who is from East Jerusalem and has lived in London for many years. Sami published Falastin with cookery writer Tara Wrigley in 2020, a beautiful book that took us on a journey through Palestine. And then there’s my great friend, Fadi Kattan from Bethlehem, who’s family dates back to the 1700s and who still lives there today. Fadi has been instrumental in communicating and celebrating the heritage of Palestinian food; delving deep into its history, speaking passionately about the terroir and indigenous vegetables and herbs of the West Bank, and his debut book titled ‘Bethlehem‘ is published in May this year.

What has been your involvement with Zaytoun?
Firstly, I am immensely proud to call the team at Zaytoun my friends, as well as a client! Over the years I have supported Zaytoun through various PR efforts, for example, making sure the award-winning dates and extra virgin olive oil is given to food writers and chefs, liaising with journalists and giving them the stories of Zaytoun so they can publish articles about the products, and taking journalists and photographers to Palestine to visit Zaytoun’s farmers and producers. It’s been a wonderful journey, one that I hope will continue long into the future.

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