Real Israel: Wiping the plate clean

Real Israel Wiping the

By
November 26, 2009 16:02
hummous lebanon ap 248

hummous lebanon ap 248. (photo credit: AP)

 
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It has been called the Third Lebanon War. But as wars go, this is the most tasteful. If an army marches on its stomach, in this battle it is the chefs who have a lot on their plate - and I mean a lot. Israel is getting ready to return fire in the ongoing struggle with Lebanon over the Guinness world record for the largest batch of humous in the world. The previous round, at the end of October, was fought in Beirut, where chefs prepared an incredible two tons of the dip - unconventional war-"fare" indeed. This was not just a matter of guys comparing size. This is a matter of having to swallow national pride. The Lebanese event was held under the slogan "Come and fight for your bite, you know you're right!" and was part of an effort to reclaim not only the Guinness record, taken by Israel with close to 500 kg. in October 2008, but also exclusive ownership of the dish as a Lebanese culinary asset. The Association of Lebanese Industrialists is appealing to the European Union for humous and other dishes to be declared Lebanese, in the same way that Cognac has to come from the specific French region and feta cheese is Greek. The tabouleh fight is also quite messy. Now restaurateur Jawdat Ibrahim of the iconic Abu Ghosh Restaurant is preparing to fight back with some four tons of humous. Ibrahim is tackling not only the size, but also trying to take some of the bite out of the competition. His slogan is "Pothim Tzalahat Lashalom," which literally means "opening a plate for peace" but can be best translated as "spreading peace." And he is really serious about dishing it out. Preparations for the January 8 event may be peaceful but they're being coordinated like a military campaign. The recipe calls for two tons of humous and one ton of tehina as well as vast quantities of lemon juice and sesame seeds. The sesame is Greek, admits Ibrahim but the humous is from a kibbutz. "It has a special taste," he says. The secret is in getting not only the right ingredients but also the proportions right, he says. Which is why the size should not affect the taste. The plate itself will be seven meters in diameter. The Lebanese might have bitten off more than they can chew. Ibrahim says he is willing to leave the tabouleh record to our neighbors over the northern border as long as they keep their hands off our humous. "Our message is that this is the place for humous," he says. The event itself will be attended by the same judge who recently awarded Lebanon the Guinness record. It should be a festive affair with Jewish and Arab choirs and various VIPs. The four tons of humous will be distributed at the end of the competition. Abu Ghosh, just off the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, has a reputation as the home of the most authentic Middle Eastern eateries in the country and for promoting its own special recipe for coexistence. Ibrahim, who became famous after winning $20 million in the US lottery and investing it in his hometown, notes that there is something innately modest about humous. Many establishments serve it with pita as a free side dish. In Hebrew, humous takes its own verb: lenagev humous - to wipe humous. And the day we can break pita and wipe humous in places like Damascus would be considered a sign of true peace. TRYING TO figure out who invented humous is like trying to discover who first thought of baking bread, but one thing is for sure: Israelis consider humous, along with felafel, a national dish. I have come across stories of fish in Jaffa who are hooked on it and the curious case of Israeli businessmen traveling to a food fair in Cyprus when they were detained on suspicion of espionage. Apparently the 3.5-meter plate they carried on the roof of their car on which to serve a monster 220-kg. helping of humous looked suspiciously like a satellite dish and they were transporting it in an area in which a military exercise was taking place. Incidentally, humous is big business. Sales in the US totaled $192 million in 2007, according to a Bloomberg report of the humous war last year. No wonder the Lebanese see it as a consuming interest. Israeli blogger Shooky Galili (http://humous101.com) offers the wonderful slogan "Give chickpeas a chance." His blog aims to spread the word about humous "which, as some wise friend once told me, is God's gift to the poor." I am not an expert in humous, but I have enjoyed it in places ranging from Jerusalem's Mahaneh Yehuda to Cairo's Khan el-Khalili, from Jaffa eateries to restaurants in the Sultanate of Oman. I can even boast having eaten humous literally fit for a king. It was one of the few options available as a kosher-keeping vegetarian when I dined at King Hussein's palace with a parliamentary delegation to Amman many years ago. Hence I find the Lebanese claim to exclusive ownership hard to swallow. Jerusalem Post food writer Faye Levy notes, "Recently some American friends told me they didn't like the humous at a certain restaurant popular among Israelis in Los Angeles because it was 'too creamy.' What they meant was it had too much tahini; they were probably used to versions they had at Greek restaurants, which tend to blend olive oil with the humous and not much tahini. I like it the Middle Eastern way, with olive oil only on top. But it's really all a matter of taste." And, unlike size, as they say around here: "Al ta'am ve'al rei'ah, ein lehitvake'ah," you can't argue about taste or smell. Perhaps the humous war offers food for thought when it comes to conflict resolution. Maybe we can translate the food battles into an alternative in the holy war. I suggest that were the religious zealots to bring a massive bowl of cholent to Intel, for example, it would be far more likely to win people over to keeping Shabbat than rioting. It would certainly leave a better taste in everybody's mouth. liat@jpost.com

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