Cafe culture blooms in West Bank's Ramallah

Wed Apr 6, 2011 8:32am EDT
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By Mohammed Assadi

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - While Paris's Left Bank is famous for its fine restaurants and bustling cafes, Palestine's West Bank is not. But that might be about to change.

The hilly city of Ramallah, which lies just to the north of Jerusalem, has undergone a massive boom in recent years on the back of Western donor support, with new smart eateries and bars mushrooming alongside a plethora of pristine office blocks.

Latest data says Ramallah and the adjacent town of Al-Bireh that it has utterly engulfed have more than 120 coffee shops and some 300 restaurants, with 50 new diners opening in 2010 alone.

"When I started, I was competing with three to four other places, now I compete with many," said Peter Nasir, who turned an abandoned family house into a bustling restaurant in 2007, which draws around 150 customers a day.

"Restaurants are good business," said Nasir, whose popular Azure restaurant lies close to the city center.

Until recently a small town in the occupied West Bank, Ramallah has seen its population double in the last decade to around 100,000, and plays host to a growing army of NGO workers, diplomats and an increasingly wealthy, middle-class elite.

"These people need food, need to sit down and talk, need to hold receptions. This explains the increase in restaurants," said Mohammad Amin, head of Ramallah Chamber of Commerce.

The Palestinians dream of establishing a capital for their longed-desired independent state in nearby Jerusalem. But that city is fully controlled by Israel and with no Middle East peace deal in sight, Ramallah has rapidly risen to the fore.   Continued...

<p>A cook prepares a dish in the kitchen of a restaurant in the West Bank city of Ramallah April 5, 2011. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman</p>