Saturday, November 25, 2023

Meet mompreneur dishing out Palestinian delights for sweet teeth in Karachi

Accompanied by her daughters Laila and Israh, Iman operates Palestinian bakery from her house in Karachi

Iman Al Haj Ali with her daughters Laila and Israh at their home-based bakery in Karachi. — Author
Iman Al Haj Ali with her daughters Laila and Israh at their home-based bakery in Karachi. — Author

KARACHI: Iman Al Haj Ali, a resilient Palestinian woman, has been bringing the rich flavours of Palestinian sweet dishes to the vibrant city of Karachi for the past year, alongside her daughters.

In an exclusive interview with Geo Digital, Iman shared that her motivation for introducing Palestinian dishes in Karachi goes beyond just culinary delights as she aims to provide a cultural experience for the people of the city.

Iman's journey began when her Pakistani husband, who frequently travels for work, brought her to Karachi.

Inspired by her passion for Palestinian cuisine and a desire to share her cultural heritage, she embarked on a new venture — a small online bakery based out of her home.

Recalling how she started her culinary journey she said: "As an IT engineer and a seasoned teacher in various institutions, keeping busy has always been my thing. 

However, the idea of idleness never sat well with me. So, I decided to start something not only to occupy my time but also to create moments with my two amazing daughters, Laila and Israh, who happen to be business graduates."

Iman operates her bakery from her home in Karachi. — Author
Iman operates her bakery from her home in Karachi. — Author

"[I thought] what better way to put those business degrees to good use?" Iman said, adding that it's been a journey filled with learning, bonding, and the joy of creating something together.

"Now, our shared venture is not just a way to pass the time but a meaningful project that brings us closer as a family," she added.

Iman — along with her daughter Laila relocated to Pakistan after marriage to a Pakistani citizen — shares the home with her stepdaughter Israh.

Taste of Palestine in every bite

Iman spiced up Karachi's culinary scene by adding some Middle Eastern flair to the menu with sweet dishes such as Kunafa, Qatayef, and Basbousa taking centre stage.

"Qatayef is a sweet treat, especially prepared in Palestine, particularly during Ramadan," Iman shared. '

"Since we launched our bakery last Ramadan, we decided to include Qatayef in our menu. We offer both Kunafa and Basbousa, as Karachiites have a strong liking for Kunafa, which is renowned among popular Arab cuisines worldwide," she told Geo Digital.

Palestinian sweet dishes Basbousa, Qatayef and others. — Author
Palestinian sweet dishes Basbousa, Qatayef and others. — Author

Iman's roots run deep into Palestine, woven tightly through the stories of her parents and siblings.

Even though she wasn't born on that sacred soil, her bond with the land is nothing short of profound — a testament to the enduring power of family ties and heritage.

"My four siblings were born in Palestine and lived there for quite some time. Sadly, after the events of the second Nakba in 1967, my parents lost the right to return to their homeland. 

The heartbreaking part is that even if we were to visit that land again, we'd be considered visitors. Being a guest in your own country is a profound sorrow," she lamented.

Arabic Kunafa. — Author
Arabic Kunafa. — Author

"Our relatives still reside there, and our properties are there too. But the ongoing situation is incredibly distressing. I am immensely grateful to the people of Pakistan who are raising their voices for our people. It means a lot to us," Iman added.

So, in the sweet dish squad, you've got Iman's daughters, Laila and Israh, throwing in their culinary skills. Additionally, she has trained an employee who assists in the kitchen.

In conversation with Geo Digital, Laila mentioned that in a city like Karachi, where there is substantial support for Palestine, it is essential to educate people about the culture of that place.

"Our culture is consistently under the influence of Israel. Israeli claims that dishes like 'shakshouka' and 'dates' belong to them are nothing but lies."

"There has always been a relationship of love between Pakistan and Palestine. Pakistanis feel the pain of Palestinians and empathise with the horrifying events that unfold. The support we've received from the people of Karachi, we're genuinely thankful for it. It's true, their support boosts our motivation to work even harder," Laila said with a smile on her face.

For now, expansion isn't on the cards just yet, but with Laila and Iman keeping the kitchen busy, who knows maybe it's a possibility down the road.