May 11, 2010
The Hummus Wars
Finally there’s a Middle East war we can enjoy.
Last January Israeli chefs cooked up a five ton plate of hummus, that otherworldly combination of garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic, lemon, salt and the secret ingredient. The dish entered th Guiness Book of World Records as the largest.
This week, chefs in Lebanon fought back. In a village about 5 miles east of Beirut, 300 chefs came up with a dish weighing 11.5 tons, CNN reported.
And these hummus wars provide a good jumping off pointb for deeper truths about today’s Middle East:
1. Lebanon is making a major push to reach the West for investment and tourism. It is trying to refashion its image in the States in a big way—including several pages of advertorial insert in last week’s Newsweek. What says “Welcome!” more than a big plate of hummus?
2. Israelis have long seen Lebanon as a natural partner for growth and cooperation. Both are small countries with an educated, Western-oriented, diverse and ambitious population. In Shimon Peres’ Middl East pipe dream, trains would run from Tel Aviv to Beirut, creating an international corridor of trade, development and culture.
3. Lebanon and Israel share an entrepreneurial, outward-looking spirit. It’s not a coincidence that they both see the internationla potential of hummus. The dish has been around thousands of years, but it was the Israelis who jumped on the idea of making it an international brand. Sabra? Tribe? Miki? Israeli. I suspect they’ll get competition sooner rather than later from Lebanon.
Meantime, here’s an even deeper truth: you can make your own hummus that tastes far better than the packaged stuff. Just don’t use canned chickpeas. Here’s the recipe.
“What we have been trying to do is just what the Greeks have done with feta cheese,” said Fadi Abboud, president of The Association of Lebanese Industrialists.
The Israelis have a different point of view.
“Trying to make a copyright claim over hummus is like claiming for the rights to bread or wine,” said Shooky Galili, an Israeli whose blog, dedicated to all things hummus, bears the motto “give chickpeas a chance.”