How time flies, Ramadan has passed. The holy month of fasting is especially important for Muslims all over the world as they value this time to strengthen not only personal faith but family bonds. However, not all Muslims are fortunate enough to share the joy of Ramadan as some of them were forcibly displaced from their home, losing their loved ones and the support from their local communities.
In an attempt to bring the refugees some semblance of home, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency organised a cook-along session hosted by celebrity chef and UNHCR supporter, Anis Nabilah together with Palestinian refugee home-cook Dalya to make Maqlooba.
Why Maqlooba? Maqlooba is a traditional Palestinian dish, usually served for special occasions like Eid and Ramadan. It means ‘upside down’ in Arabic, is a dish filled with richly spiced rice, vegetables, stewed meat, layered and cooked, then flipped onto a serving dish to form an impressive tower.
“I remember it was raining on that day my mom taught me to make Maqlooba. I remember her sitting on a chair in the kitchen, giving me instructions. Now every time I cook Maqlooba, it reminds me of my mother and the smell of rain on that day,” said Dalya.
Dalya was a trained accountant back in her hometown in Gaza Strip, Palestine. She was forced to flee to Malaysia with her husband and four children, seven years ago. Without any resources in Malaysia, she scraped a living selling Maqlooba and Mandi rice while her husband sold Shawarma to make ends meet. Thankfully, word spread of her culinary skills, and now she cooks full time to support her family.
“When I left my country, my kids were still young. So usually when I cook a Palestinian dish, it reminds them about the food and our culture,” said Dalya. “I cook dishes from home so there are opportunities for me to tell them stories of our beloved land. They love listening to these stories and often tell me how much they long to return to Palestine.”
As for Anis Nabilah, she entered the culinary world at a very young age. With her exceptional experience, plus strong influence in the Asean food scene, she is now an incredible advocate for refugees, volunteering with projects to help refugees in the country, including teaching refugee children to bake and cooking meals for refugees, especially during the month of Ramadan.
“I feel that a lot of Malaysians do not know the real situation about refugees. People think that refugees have a choice to come here, but that is not the case,” said Anis. “They came here to save their lives. And even when they are relatively safer here, they still face daily struggles to survive. If Malaysians take the effort to understand refugees better, they would feel more empathy and would not make blind assumptions towards this group,” she added that this was one of the reasons why she decided to participate in the UNHCR-produced cooking series.
“Refugees need help, but refugees can also help others,” said Dalya. “For instance, during the lockdown, I cooked about 300 meals for the frontliners working in the hospital. I also cooked many dishes to be distributed to the homeless community during the pandemic. I love to help and I want to share my talents with anyone who needs it.”
“Back in Palestine, women will cook during Ramadan and serve it to worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque and other mosques. We do this for free because Ramadan is a holy month, where we give Sadaqah (voluntary charitable offerings). It is a tradition that I love to continue here, in the country hosting me, to show my appreciation,” said Dalya with a smile.
You can try this Maqlooba recipe at home and share it on your social media by using the hashtag #WithRefugees. For full recipe details, please visit here.
This cook-along video entitled “How to Cook Maqlooba with Anis Nabilah and Dalya” is a part of a series of cooking videos produced by UNHCR in collaboration with Malaysian celebrities.
There are some 180,000 refugees registered with UNHCR in Malaysia, having fled their countries due to war, persecution, and complex human rights abuses.
By highlighting the connection between food, family, memories and culture, UNHCR hopes to show that refugees are everyday people who have survived extraordinary circumstances and, like everyone else, they have hopes, dreams, and favourite foods that remind them of special times and places in their lives.
Together, we can give hope to refugees. Let’s share the blessings of Ramadan and donate here.
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