In the Middle East, the origins of traditional dishes like hummus are the subject of contentious debate across cultures and borders. But Israeli food writer Vered Guttman suggests that these culinary similarities are reason for hope.
It took 300 chefs, hours of work and 10 tons of hummus, but on May 8, Lebanon broke the world record for the largest bowl of hummus.
This record more than doubles the last record of 4 tons held by Israel, which broke the former record of 2 tons held by Lebanon, which broke the modest record of 700 pounds held by Israel. This, in short, is the history of the Big War Of Hummus.
In this time, when tensions are on the rise yet again, it's almost comforting to watch this comic battle between two nations that experienced a horrific war as recently as four years ago.
Behind this food fight is a deeper dispute. It touches on deep national sentiments and boils down to the question: Whose hummus is it anyway?
According to Fadi Abboud, president of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, Lebanon has been losing tens of millions of dollars a year because Israel is marketing dishes like tabbuleh and hummus to the U.S. market. Abboud threatened Lebanon would file an international lawsuit against Israel for violating its food copyright. The only Israeli response has been to break the record again and again.
The truth is, no one is really sure about the origins of hummus. Chickpeas were cultivated about 6,000 years ago in the Middle East and have been widely available there ever since. Archaeologists found the first evidence of hummus in the area that is now Israel from the time of the crusaders.
Hummus is enjoyed every day in small cafes and private homes in Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. As an Israeli, I watched it become a national obsession in my country. Small hummus joints are filled with diners, each one an expert on the science of hummus and a devotee of one place. It's either the Galilee hummus or the Jerusalem kind, with or without fava beans, topped with warm chickpeas or served without. Even with the "swallow, don't chew" attitude of many of these establishments, encouraging you to make room for the next diner, you'll see people sitting on sidewalks outside their favorite place, gleefully holding a bowl of warm hummus topped with olive oil in one hand and a fresh pita bread in the other.
Hummus polls, countless articles and even a hummus blog help Israelis articulate their passion. And the longing to try the famous Damascus hummus remain a big incentive for peace in the Middle East.
The conclusion is that our two people are closer than we'd like to admit, that we share the same foods, and that maybe this is a good thing. A food fight involving hummus may sound messy (don't try this at home), but it's cleaner than other types of fighting. It offers hope.
As of May 21, Israel is holding the world record for the largest falafel ball. Really.