Palestinian woman turns love for cooking into thriving catering business in Pakistani capital

Saima Shabbir

ISLAMABAD: Though Basma Al-Masharqa, a Palestinian woman living in Islamabad for the past three decades, was always a passionate cook, the idea to start a Middle Eastern food business arose out of a shared challenge for many Arabs residing in Pakistan: the spiciness of local dishes.

For years, Al-Masharqa’s husband had been inviting Pakistanis to their home to try Arab delicacies prepared by his wife. Word quickly spread about the Palestinian woman’s talents and she was constantly getting catering and delivery requests.

In January this year, Al-Masharqa finally decided it was time to turn her passion into a business and she launched a catering service that offers Middle Eastern spreads for breakfast, lunch and dinner. 

“My husband used to invite Pakistani people almost daily because they enjoy Arabic food and eventually, many people suggested that I start selling the food since I spend a lot of time in the kitchen,” Al-Masharqa told Arab News in an interview this week.

Basma Al-Masharqa, a Palestinian woman living in Islamabad prepares food in her kitchen on June 20, 2023 in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

“A few months ago, I started this business, and the response has been very positive.” 

In fact, the demand has exceeded her expectations, the chef said, and she daily received six to seven orders and oftentimes had to decline requests as she was overbooked.

“I feel happy knowing that people enjoy my cooking as I love to cook and that is why I experiment and try different things every day,” Al-Masharqa said.

Popular dishes on the menu include foul, hummus, falafel, labna, warak enab and maqluba. Al-Masharqa regularly consults with a nutritionist and all her dishes are made using olive and coconut oil. She also prepares salt-free cheese, suitable for individuals with high blood pressure and other ailments.

Her loyal customers include Arabs living in Islamabad but increasingly Pakistanis also.

Arab cuisine prepared by Basma Al-Masharqa, a Palestinian woman living in Islamabad on June 20, 2023 in Islamabad, Pakistan. (AN Photo)

“Pakistani people appreciate Arab food, especially those who have visited Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries,” she said. “They are familiar with our dishes… and they frequently place orders for these items.”

Al-Masharqa, who considers Pakistan her second home, said she hoped her food will connect more and more Pakistanis with Arab culture and cuisine. 

“I hope that more people will develop a liking for Arabic food and learn about my country,” she said, “especially Palestine.”

Courtesy: arabnews