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Give Chickpeas A Chance: Why Hummus Unites, And Divides, The Mideast

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Give Chickpeas A Chance: Why Hummus Unites, And Divides, The Mideast

Give Chickpeas A Chance: Why Hummus Unites, And Divides, The Mideast

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/483715410/486432965" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Today and for the next few Mondays, we have new work from the Kitchen Sisters, Nikki Silva and Davia Nelson. The latest in their Hidden Kitchen series is "War And Peace And Food" - six stories about the role of food in times of conflict. This morning, Operation Hummus - a story from the Middle East about dueling claims to a simple dish.

FADI ABOOD: My name is Fadi Abood, born in Lebanon. I served as minister for tourism. I am the one who led Lebanon to break the Guinness Book of Records by making the largest tub of hummus in the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ABOOD: We want to the whole world to know that hummus and tabouli are Lebanese.

At the time, a group of us came from a food exhibition in France. Suddenly, they were telling us hummus is an Israeli traditional dish. I mean, you know, the world now thinks that Israel invented hummus. I was rather upset, you know, and I thought the best way to tell the world that hummus is Lebanese is to break the Guinness Book of Records.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It gives me great pleasure to award the new Guinness world record.

JAWDAT IBRAHIM: It was a big issue - all over the news that hummus only Lebanese. I say no, hummus for everybody. My name is Jawdat Ibrahim. We’re in Abu Gosh Restaurant in Abu Gosh village, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. I came up with an idea. We are going to break a Guinness world record.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: In the town of Abu Gosh this morning, Israel retook the title for the world's largest hummus dish, weighing four tons, scooped into a satellite dish.

IBRAHIM: Media came here - over 50 TV channels all over the world - more than Obama visit to the country.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The Lebanese, they're already planning a counterattack.

RONIT VERDE: We call it the hummus wars. When Lebanon accused the Israeli people of trying to steal the hummus and make it their national dish, hummus became a symbol. My name is Ronit Verde. I'm a food journalist about the culture food here in Israel. I live in Tel Aviv. In Israel, we don't have a strong food tradition. This place only exists 60 years. You don't have specific dishes which can be common ground for all the Israelis, so hummus became a common ground. Palestinians also made hummus a symbol that we didn't only take their lands, we take their food as well and make it ours.

NULA MUSLI: The hummus is ours. They take our hummus, and they make it their tradition.

My name is Nula Musli, and I'm a Palestinian. I work with journalists. I'm a fixer.

People run to get hummus when they're in Ramahalah. It's like getting a good pizza in downtown Rome or getting a good a T-bone steak in Texas, I imagine. I haven't been.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken).

MUSLI: The restaurant owner, he says what distinguishes any hummus is nefs, which means soul in Arabic. They pound it. They pound it. You use good tahini, sesame seed crush, sumac, lemons from Jericho. Palestinians don't mind that Lebanon is proud of its hummus. It puts Arabs together.

ABOOD: The actual name, hummus, comes from the Arabic for chick pea. Lebannon wanted to register hummus with the European Union for Lebanon, in the way of Champagne, Parmesan, like the Greeks did with feta cheese.

ARI ARIEL: My name is Ari Ariel, author of the article "The Hummus Wars." The Association of Lebanese Industrialists started a campaign called Hands Off Our Dishes. The problem from the Lebanese perspective was that there were these Israeli companies that were selling most of the hummus in the world.

ABOOD: We were not successful in registering hummus for Lebanon.

VERDE: In the first two decades of the state, the Israeli people didn't really eat local food. They stuck to the thing that is close to your heart. It's also a political issue. If I eat Palestinian food, in a way, I acknowledge the fact that they exist.

ARIEL: In the 1950s, the Israeli army started serving hummus in mess halls, and the average Israeli came to consider it an everyday food.

DAFNA HIRSCH: These foods become more familiar, kind of hip, something young people will eat. My name is Dafna Hirsch, faculty member at the Open University of Israel. Hummus is appropriated as the food of the new Sabra, the new Israeli man who is rooted in the land.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).

HIRSCH: In Israel, hummus is considered a masculine dish. It's considered a kind of masculine ritual to go with a group of men to the hummusiya and eating hummus, wiping this, you know, large, circular gestures.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).

MUSLI: Hummus, unfortunately, has become, like, in the category of fast foods. But actually, in Arab and all of Palestine, hummus is Friday honorable breakfast. The father wakes up in the morning, makes hummus, invites all his daughters, his sons. It's a way to get together in the morning of a Friday, when the family wants to throw all their worries and problems away.

DAVID VARON: My name is David Varon from Tel Aviv, and I'm a taxi driver.

DAVIA NELSON, BYLINE: What does your tattoo say?

VARON: No fear. Some people are afraid to live in a country where there's so much blood and wars and conflict of thousands of years. This conflict is about religion, and it will not be over until religion will be over. Hummus, falafel is maybe the only thing that gets people to sit together with different thoughts to eat the same food.

HIRSCH: This kind of approach which says, oh, you know, if we eat hummus together, then peace will come through the stomach and all that, but no. I mean, as long as occupation continues, then hummus is not going to solve it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Now, you can see it's quite a crowd - thousands of people gathered around. The hummus has been made...

IBRAHIM: We broke the Guinness world record in 2010. But to make the hummus is not the issue. To put things together is the main thing. People talking about blood and killing, and I want to take it to a different way. People can talk about Middle East nice things, not just killing and shooting - hummus. Nobody gets hurt with this war.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Hidden Kitchen's "War And Peace And Food" is produced by the Kitchen Sisters and mixed by Jim McKee. You can hear more Kitchen Sisters stories on their podcast, "Fugitive Waves."

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