HUMMUS - WAR I
by Hernan Barros
Sticking a flag, singing an anthem or bearing a shield of arms can be seen as marks of territorial domain. Could a dish have that power? They are designed to satisfy a basic need with products available within reach, either by distance or price. Obviously, they symbolize nations, like Afternoon Tea was chosen by the UK a few years ago or Pizza in Italy.
A way of preparing, serving and eating a dish are part of the cultural traditions of a region. Even, a geographical area can claim a way or making a dish due to particular circumstances only given within its borders. The French did it with Champagne and many cheeses, as the Spanish, Portuguese and Italians, even the Mexicans with Tequila. But borders mean war and violence, restrictions and controls, visas and regulations. French and Swiss claim the origin of the Raclet, as Russians and Polish regard the Vodka as their own.
Does it happen then, that in a war zone, food is part of the battlefield? Both regions, as sharers of a border, should have similar products, grown in similar climates, they most even have common ancestors. A fight about a dish, its origins, popularity and other factors must not be difficult to find in a disputed territory.
That is exactly what happens between the borders of Palestine and Israel. The origin of Hummus is not entirely certain but it suppose to come from some place in the Arab region. Israel, as a nation, has it as National Dish which seems to offend many Arabs. For Israelis it is more a main course, unlike for Lebanese, where it is a side dish or a starter. The differences affect the amount of Tahini, the inclusion of ingredients as varied as yoghurt, butter, garlic, and of course, the time of the day when is eaten.
The Israeli made a Guinness Record for the biggest Hummus ever served but a year after, the Lebanese took it back by making a dish more than double in size which was over 10 tons.
Israeli have managed to market the Hummus abroad very well, specially in the US market while Lebanese are attempting to give the Hummus an status of Protected Geographically, making it to belong to Lebanon as Roquefort Cheese belongs to that region of France. Being a relatively simple dish, that petition have stirred concerned; it is argued that claiming the rights on Hummus is like to claim the rights of wine.
Some battles have been lost but the war continues while Hummus goes on course of being almost universal. It can be found as far as Latin America and Australia. I've stumbled upon chefs who at the lack of certain ingredients in their own regions, they de-construct the recipe:
If it contains tahini + chickpeas + olive oil, then what happens if there is no tahini available?
If tahini = sesame seeds purée, then:
sesame purée + chickpeas + olive oil = sesame oil + chickpeas.
By doing that, the results are considerably similar.
Who will succeed? Who would loose? History is written by the winners and whoever succumbs in battle will be forgotten, dethroned, stripped of its legacy.
In there, lays the importance of Hummus as a trophy. A popular tradition that covers a larger territory and by acknowledging it as from one side, the other side would kneel down to the "rightful owners" every time they taste it. To restrain yourself about what to eat and what not, is a simple way of domination but a very powerful one. It is the power of a mother over a son, the one of a religion over disciples. And whoever looses it, it will recognized that victory in every taste, either by eating it or by denying a spoon of it out of pride. But how can you control something larger than life like food? Could the Chinese prevent the evolution of pasta so it became Italian, and after universal? The Hamburgers suppose to come from Hamburg, then made popular by Americans, to be everywhere nowadays. What about The Count of Sandwich, creator of a dish? And now it is barely known as reference for millions of eaters around the globe.
The war on Hummus continues as it expansion does. Hummus will conquer the world before one of the sides could reclaim it as theirs, like bread, scrambled eggs or even Nachos did expand. Hummus is so simple, accessible, clear that anyone could attempt a reinvention, a version, then make it theirs, enjoy it. A dish which has come from very difficult weather conditions and has emerged as a versatile delicacy can not be own or possessed, but only enjoyed.