The Art of Cooking with Sami Herbawi

DEC 17, 2020

Sami Herbawi, who was born in Jerusalem, is the owner of Andala Coffee House located in Central Square in Cambridge. Sami and Andala have partnered with the A.R.T. in conjunction with This Is Who I Am, a new play written by Amir Nizar Zuabi and performed live from December 13, 2020, to January 5, 2021. The play follows a conversation between a Palestinian father and son cooking a family recipe together over Zoom. Sami has curated a menu of favorite dishes for Boston/Cambridge-based patrons to order alongside their viewing of the performance. Sami spoke with HGSE Education and Engagement Associate Jake Stepansky about the art of cooking and the art in cooking.

Could you talk a bit about the cultural significance of the dishes you’ve included on the special menu for This Is Who I Am (two of which are featured prominently in the show)?

Lentil soup is a soup for everybody—the rich person, the poor person, middle-class people—everybody cooks that dish and eats it. It’s become a tradition.

Fteer, or spinach pie, is also something that everybody makes. It’s a simple meal to make and everybody makes it. That’s why we chose those dishes. Everybody uses those dishes—they’re very hearty and very delicious.

How about the dessertsanything you’d like to share about those?

All Andala’s desserts are made on the premises, and we make them ourselves. The ingredients are very simple, and the dishes are very simple to make—walnuts and spices and phyllo dough and syrup. That’s what it’s really all about—and the freshness of all that. If you ate it on Saturday, it was probably made that day or the day before. It’s not like something where you buy it from the store and it sits on shelves for months or weeks or years. We offer something made very fresh with simple ingredients, no preservatives, no additives, no nothing—very simple. That’s how we make it delicious—the simplicity and the freshness.

I can attest to how delicious they are—I’ve had the nammourah, the baklawa, and the carrot cake—and all of them are absolutely incredible.

Thank you so much.

Thank you!

I’ve wanted to ask—what are you studying in school?

I’m studying in the Arts in Education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and I’m interested in working with artists and with community and bringing them together.

You know, when you say “art”—art, to me, is a very open subject, and it’s huge. There are no limitations, you know? Everything we do is art. Everything the eye sees is art. I studied engineering, and I think of it also as art. Cooking is not only art—it is also love. If you cook for the sake of cooking, it will never be good. If you cook because you love to cook, the whole concept changes. If you say, “I want to make a meal, and I’m putting my heart and my love into it,” that meal will definitely come out very, very delicious. But if you have to cook because, “Oh, I’m hungry,” it doesn’t—it has to come from love. It has to come from your heart. You have to have an intention that you really, really want to make that dish and want to feed somebody. If you cook without the love, it’s pointless. It has to be something you love to do and you want to do. It’s like when you invite someone to your house—you say, “I want to make you the best meal that you could ever imagine,” and you really do it from your heart, then that will without any question be the most delicious meal you’ve ever made.

Your point about art reminds me of my work with Forklift Danceworks down in Austin, Texas. We make dances with people who do not think of themselves as dancers when we meet themtrash collectors, firefighters, lifeguards, folks who take care of the trees and the parks. One of the ideas behind that work is that people who do those jobs for the most part really love and take pride in what they do. When we make those dances with people where people are mowing lawns as a dance or picking up trash as a dance, people cheer and scream for them because they think the movement is cool, sure, but they’re getting a chance to applaud and celebrate someone for doing the thing that they love.

In my country, the policeman used to direct traffic—there were no traffic lights. He would direct the traffic, and his movement is really a dance—the hand movement, the leg movement—if you go sometime to YouTube and watch Ramallah’s traffic directors, it’s a whole movement piece, it’s a whole art. I watched it once or twice, and I said, “Wow. He loves what he does, and he’s enjoying it all day, and his time goes very quick and very fast.” When you do things you like, the time becomes like no time. If you do something you really hate, the time becomes tremendous—it becomes like the heaviest time. Time will not move. Every minute is like an hour. If you love what you do, every hour goes by like a minute.

Absolutely. My company actually did a dance with a traffic director in Austin—I’ll send you that video!

Wonderful. Yes, even the trash collectors, when they go and take the barrels and do this and that—it’s all movement, from my point of view. It’s all art. You can see the personality and the movement and the body language of one person who loves what they’re doing and one person who hates what they’re doing.

Absolutely. Thank you so much! This made my heart very happy.

Mine too. Please stop by sometime so we can chat more.


View Sami’s menu for This Is Who I Am

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