Selena Qian

We eat for several reasons—to survive and procrastinate, yes, but also to reconnect with home. Nothing transports us back to the family dinner table faster than tasting our grandma’s three-cheese mac n’ cheese or baba’s pork and preserved egg congee. 

Junior Dina Daas lived in Jordan until she was 12, when her family moved to New York. Her favorite childhood dish is Musakhan—a "layer of bread, covered in caramelized onions with a special spice and chicken"—which Daas described as the Palestinian national dish. It holds a special place in her heart because Daas' grandfather, an "affectionate hugger," would cook it for her growing up. 

Daas agreed to cook the dish with The Chronicle, recreating a taste of home in a dorm kitchen here at Duke. As the chicken browned in the pan, Daas chopped the onions and shared her stories behind Musakhan. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Chronicle: What is the special spice? 

Dina Daas: It’s called sumac. It’s a traditional spice in many Middle Eastern dishes. It’s not really present in the United States, but I managed to find some, which is exciting. 

TC: What are the ingredients?

DD: We have bread, chicken thigh, onions, salt and pepper, lots of olive oil, pine nuts and sumac. 

TC: What is the origin of this dish? 

DD: It’s Palestinian. It’s the official national dish...

...We lived in Jordan and my grandpa lived in Palestine. Every couple of months, he would come home. Before he’d come, he would call and ask me, ‘What do you want me to make you?’ I’d always give him a list of all the foods I wanted him to make, and this was my favorite one. He would barbecue outside on Sundays. 

He would make Mansaf, which is the national Jordanian dish. My favorite days is when he would make Musakhan. 

As Daas cut the onions, she teared up from the pungent odor. 

TC: You’re crying. 

DD [laughs]: Yes, it’s a very emotional dish. My grandpa was a very scary man, according to anyone you would ask. 

People talked about him with such fear and admiration, but I didn’t know that until he died, because he always had a soft spot for me and my little brother. My grandpa did a lot of things. He opened up a school in Palestine... 

So I think he would be very happy if he knew I was making this dish. The last time I properly had this dish was at his funeral. This dish reminds me most of home, and makes me feel most like myself again.  

Daas finishes making the dish and helps herself to a bite.

TC: How does it taste? 

DD: I’m really happy. It reminds me of when I was really little and I would eat this. I haven’t had this in so long. 

Check out photos from the Musakhan cooking below: