Syrian refugee brings the taste of Aleppian cuisine to Gaza

Syrian refugee brings the taste of Aleppian cuisine to Gaza
3 min read
22 June, 2022
For many years, Anas Katerji, a Syrian refugee, has popularised the taste of Aleppo's shawarma to the besieged coastal enclave, giving Palestinians the chance to enjoy Syrian cuisine.
In 2020, Katerji decided to open his own Al-Halabi restaurant which contains a lot of posters of pre-conflict Aleppo. [Getty]

For many years, Anas Katerji, a Syrian refugee, has succeeded in conveying the taste of Aleppo shawarma to the besieged coastal enclave, allowing the locals to enjoy various dishes of Syrian cuisine.

The 36-year-old chef reached Gaza from Egypt through one of the many tunnels used to smuggle goods into the Strip in 2014.

"In the beginning, my life was difficult, especially since I did not work and had no family (...) but later the Gazans sheltered me and provided me with housing. Later, I found a job as a chef assistant in a local restaurant," he said to The New Arab.

"With persistence and perseverance," he said, "I was able to work as the main chef in some restaurants."

"I was famous for preparing two dishes, in particular, the first is the Syrian shawarma meal served on a plate of rice with roasted nuts and the garlic dip," Katerji added. 

Syrian refugee brings the taste of Aleppo to Gaza
Anas Katerji, a Syrian refugee, has succeeded in conveying the taste of Aleppo shawarma to the besieged coastal enclave. [Getty]

In 2020, Katerji decided to open his own Al-Halabi restaurant which has a lot of posters depicting pre-conflict Aleppo.

Katerji is among about 30 other Syrians who have arrived in the Strip, whose residents are mostly refugees or descendants of refugees who fled during the 1948 war when the state of Israel was forcibly established.

The United Nations said that about 5.6 million Syrians have fled the civil war since it began in 2011. Most have sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.

"Despite all the difficult conditions in Gaza, the Syrian refugees have received humanitarian support from the local population," Katerji said. "For me, Gaza is the best place in the world."

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However, Katerji faces several challenges during his travel because he entered Gaza illegally and does not hold valid travel documents. He is currently unable to visit his family in Syria or even travel outside the Strip.

Israel has imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007 after Hamas took control of the coastal enclave. Moreover, it launched four large-scale military wars on Gaza, killing thousands. 

Egypt also imposes severe restrictions on local residents' ability to travel outside the Strip, which means that Katerji will not be able to travel unless he gets a passport.

Syrian refugee brings the taste of Aleppo to Gaza
Anas Katerji, a Syrian refugee, has succeeded in conveying the taste of Aleppo shawarma to the besieged coastal enclave. [Getty]

Katerji's restaurant is usually crowded with customers who savour the Syrian taste.

Maysoon Ezzat, a Gaza-based teacher, used to visit the Syrian restaurant at least twice a month to eat different Syrian dishes.

"We (Gazans) are famous for preparing delicious food, and it was not easy for me to try other dishes from Arab kitchens. However, Katerji Restaurant changed my view. It is really delicious and I can't resist it very much," she told The New Arab.

"When we come here," she added, "We feel that Katerji is one of our relatives or friends because he treats us as if we are his real family."

"It is important for the refugee to be an ambassador for his country and to express it in a good way through his daily humanitarian dealings and insistence on success in his field of work," Katerji noted.