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The Food Blogger Cooking Through Gaza’s Hunger Crisis

In a refugee camp, Hamada Shaqoura turns aid packages into pizza wraps, curry, and “Gazan style” tacos, gaining internet-wide attention. On Instagram, he offers the world a glimpse into the scarcity and ingenuity that define Palestinian survival.

Hamada Shaqoura, a 32-year-old food blogger from Gaza City, has garnered international attention for his unorthodox cooking videos,Chantal Jahchan

A young man sits cross-legged on the floor of a tent in the southern Gaza city Rafah, his eyes locked with the camera’s gaze. In swift succession, Hamada Shaqoura arranges a can of Vienna sausages, an onion, a slim loaf of bread, a box of shelf-stable soft cheese, and a liter of long-life milk atop a plank of wood. Soberly, he sautés the frankfurters and onions on a propane stove and whips up a makeshift mayonnaise. After stuffing the tough bread with these ingredients, he is holding an improvised sub sandwich. The video cuts to a sandy alley, where he coaxes a group of Gazan children to sample his creation. Their faces are cautious at first, evidencing their many months of displacement and war. But with each bite of fresh food, their faces soften, even into smiles. Zakee! Delicious! Hey, give me a bite!

To speak of food in Gaza is usually to speak of starvation and humanitarian crisis. Since October 2023, Israel has intensified its 17-year blockade on the Strip, which was already heavily dependent on humanitarian aid. Despite spectacular levels of outright violence that have left over 2 million people displaced and over 34,000 Palestinians dead, experts warn that hunger and disease may outstrip bombs and bullets in the number of casualties. Already, top international monitors, such as Oxfam, have declared the starvation in Gaza as the worst on record. Many of these organizations have assessed this crisis to be “entirely manmade,” calling on Israel to permit lifesaving food, as well as medical supplies and other essentials, to enter Gaza. These demands intensified after Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen. In the face of this backlash, Israel pledged to ease the blockade on Gaza, but experts on the ground have reported little improvement so far.

In the midst of this compounding tragedy, Shaqoura, a 32-year-old food blogger from Gaza City, has garnered international attention for his unorthodox cooking videos. With over 200,000 followers on Instagram, Shaqoura’s jury-rigged kitchen offers the world a glimpse into the scarcity and ingenuity that have come to define Palestinian survival since 1948, when Israel expelled hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes. There is something uncanny about the way his clips frame familiar internet trends in a uniquely disastrous setting—as when Shaqoura unpacks plastic-wrapped hauls from the World Food Programme in a wrenching version of the typical “unboxing video,” or when he demonstrates his recipes in bulk proportions for distribution to refugees.

Out of the humanitarian rations he and his community gather by standing in hours-long queues, Shaqoura spins up chicken curry, pizza wraps, and, as he calls it, “Gazan style” tacos. There is a defiant cheerfulness to his posts: “very limited supplies. but still, we do magic, we can make children smile with a simple taco,” reads one caption. The recipes are his personal creations, hybrid dishes born in desperate circumstances, but imbued with dignity, creativity. Through them, Shaqoura seeks to uplift his fellow Gazans and preserve personal and cultural history amid unprecedented destruction.

In an interview, Shaqoura and I spoke in Arabic about what it’s like to access food in Gaza, how he devises his recipes, and the message he hopes to share with every plate.

How did you get your start in the food world?
I got my start four or five years ago working at a food magazine, which covered restaurants. This is where I discovered how interested I am in the whole field—I really loved learning the little details about different dishes, and I was always looking for something new to try. Eventually, I became kind of obsessed!

What was the food scene like in Gaza, before the war?
Our indigenous dishes are the heart of our Gazan cuisine—foods like makloubah, musakhan, maftoul. Personally, I think our maftoul is really special here, there’s just something different about the Gazan touch. And, of course, we had our everyday foods too—hummus, falafel, ful, etc.

As for the restaurants, in recent years, we were going through a period of rapid innovation, and dining out was becoming trendier. We had foods inspired by the East and the West, and lots of different national cuisines—we had Mexican restaurants, burger joints, Italian spots that made pizzas and sandwiches, etc.

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All this development contributed to a scene that was full of experimentation. Everyone was doing their best to prepare food that could compete in quality and excellence with the highest international standards. We believed we could do this, despite the scarcity of ingredients and the poorer quality of the food available due to the siege on Gaza over the last 17 years. Thank God, many of us were seeing success, but unfortunately, the attacks have destroyed everything. Not just the restaurants, but all our cafés, streets, infrastructure, everything.

Could you describe what conditions you’re living in now? Where are you staying?
I am originally from Gaza City, in the north. After the war started, the Israeli attacks pushed my family down to Khan Younis, a city in the south, and after that, the war displaced us further to the south. Right now, I’m living in a tent with my wife in the refugee camps in Rafah. Currently she is pregnant with our first child. God willing, she will give birth in May.

What is it like to access food now?
The amount of aid that reaches us is, unfortunately, very, very small. Many people are not able to access it, and even those who do only receive something once in a very long while, and after standing for hours in line. It doesn’t suffice in any way—not in the quantity, nor in the quality. There is very little nutritional value in most of the ingredients we receive.

Could you give me an example of some typical foods you might receive?
The first meal we ate from humanitarian rations was some canned beans and canned cheese. The deliveries vary, but you mostly receive canned things—chickpeas, beans, peas, or some cooked preserved meat. Fresh food is very rare, except for some small amounts of vegetables. Sometimes, you might get jam or sugar. Salt.

But we are a little more fortunate in Rafah, where there is at least a little aid—in the north, for a very long time, no aid was arriving at all. There is still very serious hunger there, and everywhere.

How did you get the idea to start making your cooking videos?

After six months of attacks, we’ve lost everything, including our work. So I needed to figure out something new to do. The idea came to me to try to find some variety in the foods we were eating day-to-day. We don’t have anything to eat except the very limited humanitarian aid that comes to us, and we usually prepare and eat them very simply. So I decided to try to find some way to get creative with these ingredients and to add a little something to our daily diet.

Are your ingredients all from the aid trucks?

Almost everything I use in the videos comes from the aid distribution. There are a few items available in the markets, but the prices for these are very, very high.

How do you come up with the recipes? Do you use existing recipes or do you invent them?
I start with an idea and experiment to come up with a recipe. It’s really challenging because of the scarcity of food. All of us have to come up with substitutions every time we cook. For example, for many months, the only meat we had was canned meat with many preservatives, so none of our dishes tasted normal. Even still, most of us cannot afford the little bit of meat and eggs in the market.

But I don’t want to let that limit me, so I try things out. I discovered I could make mayonnaise by mixing milk, cheese, and vinegar. For pizza, I tried a tortilla for crust. It takes some trial and error, but I keep trying so other people in Gaza follow these alterations with what we have on hand.

What was the most challenging dish you made?
Probably pizza, because the “cheese” we get here is really bad quality. The first time I made pizza, it failed—the cheese melted everywhere, and made a mess. But I tried again, because I like Italian food a lot. Actually, it is my dream to travel and experience many other cuisines, but I think Italy would be the first stop.

How do you see your work in these videos in the context of the crisis in Gaza? What kind of difference do you see your food making on the people around you?
The war has been incredibly difficult. We’ve been living in unimaginable conditions for six months now. That’s why I feel my work is important—if you’re able to offer something delicious or nourishing to someone in the middle of this horror, the taste may remind people of a time before the war. I saw it the first time I shared one of my cooked meals with the kids. There was this look of almost surprise. You could tell it was the first time in a long time he had anything different, anything special. It made him smile, and then another child got excited and wanted to try—and so on.

I started making my meals just so I could see those reactions. It is a simple thing, but you can make a child happy for a minute, and make these conditions feel just a little bit lighter for a moment. You can give them a sense of hope that this war will end, and we will return one day to the normal lives we deserve. And when we do, we will eat the delicious food we used to.

What are your dreams for the future?
Very simple: to see the end of the war, first, and second, for Palestinians to be allowed a normal life, to be free to live like any other people, anywhere else in the world. I dream to have the opportunity to dream.

Sarah Aziza is a Palestinian American writer with roots in Deir al-Balah, Gaza.