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Jerusalem Diary: Hummus wars

Dish of hummus, courtesy Abu Shukri
All over the Middle East people claim hummus as their own

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem

WHERE THERE IS HUMMUS, THERE IS RIVALRY

If there is one thing that you can find wherever you go in the Middle East - Jerusalem, Gaza, Beirut or Cairo - it is hummus, that mashed-up festival of chickpeas, olive oil, sesame paste, lemon juice and garlic. It should be touching - a food that unites.

But the Middle East is a place where passions are quick to ignite. And so, where there is hummus, there is also intense rivalry - over who has the best recipe, over who invented it, and over who can make the biggest bowl of it.

Last year, Israeli chefs came up with a huge vat of hummus to coincide with Israeli independence day. This year, Lebanese chefs managed to make a cool two tonnes of the stuff - and in so doing, not just set a new world record, but claimed the invention of hummus for all Lebanese.

THE BEST HUMMUS IN TOWN

Now the Israeli Arab town of Abu Ghosh is preparing to strike back. In six weeks' time, Abu Ghosh is planning to construct a four-tonne bowl of hummus.

Leading the charge is Jawadat Ibrahim, the owner of the Abu Ghosh Restaurant. On the terrace of his establishment, on a warm November morning, he mixed good humour with flashes of steel.

Jawdat Ibrahim, Abu Ghosh restauraqnt
Ibrahim plays down rivalries, but still aims to make the biggest vat

He had seen the news report from Lebanon that not only had chefs there produced their record-breaking vat of hummus, but they had claimed Lebanon as the birthplace of hummus. Mr Ibrahim took issue. "It's not like champagne, or cognac, in France. This is traditional food. I remember my great-grandfather making it. It doesn't belong to just one side."

He dismisses the notion that four tonnes of hummus is a ridiculous amount - it is a "celebration", he insists. And, unsurprisingly, Mr Ibrahim will not be drawn on the secret of what he says is the "best hummus in the world".

"It looks simple," he says. "But it's not simple. You have to make it with love."

It is a winning sentiment, but in Abu Ghosh there has been a danger of the local dish becoming soured by a bitter local rivalry. One Israeli TV channel heard about the town's record-breaking plans. So they phoned the restaurant. The trouble was, they phoned the wrong place - not Abu Ghosh Restaurant, but a restaurant in Abu Ghosh, called Abu Shukri. The TV researcher asked the owner if he was planning to break to the world record for the biggest bowl of hummus. "Sure," replied Abdelrahman Baha.

We're not building an atomic bomb - you just have to use the right quantities, and the right ingredients
Abdelrahman Baha
Abu Shukri Restaurant

The Abu Shukri Restaurant is a short walk from the Abu Ghosh Restaurant. It is smaller and more modest. But its ambition is no less large.

"It was our idea, long before the Lebanese, to break the world record," Abdelrahman Baha assured me. "We thought of making a tonne and a half. But during our preparations, the father of Abu Shukri passed away. So we put it to one side, and before we came back to it, the Lebanese had come up with two tonnes."

Mr Baha also insists that, contrary to what I might have heard elsewhere, it is in fact Abu Shukri that makes the best hummus in town, "if not in the country, if not in the world".

But he will not speak quite as lyrically as his rival of what makes it so special. "We're not building an atomic bomb," he points out. "You just have to use the right quantities, and the right ingredients."

In the kitchen at Abu Shukri's
Abu Shukri's: "The best hummus in town, the country, the world"

Mr Baha says that Abu Shukri is now willing to co-operate with Abu Ghosh Restaurant on the record-breaking attempt.

Mr Ibrahim has a slightly different take, saying the owner of Abu Shukri "phoned to apologise". But he offers a touching conclusion. "This is for the whole village, the whole country, the whole people. People love hummus. They love to live side by side."

So whose is better? In the spirit of selfless research, I tasted both, extensively.

In fact, I consumed two fresh bowls of the stuff, on that bright November morning. They were garnished with fat dollops of warm fava beans. And at the risk of fuelling the hummus wars of Abu Ghosh, I would have to say that Abu Ghosh Restaurant's is sweet and smooth, Abu Shukri's is earthier, but still deeply alluring.

But there again, when it comes to hummus, what would a mere European know?


Here is a selection of your comments on Tim's diary:

I've eaten hummus in Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, the Emirates but none taste as nice or as better as hummus from Tesco in the UK. It's gorgeous and I wish I could have a few tubs imported every week.
Maz, Damascus, Syria

Hummus must be Arab in origin, the name is Arabic for a start! Hummus means chickpea... See Hans Wehr's Arabic dictionary or even any online dictionary for that matter. The best hummus is from Damascus in the Old City with full and tomatoes and laban accompanying it and fresh flat bread... yummy! I miss it and it was so cheap at 25p for 500g!
Miriam, Durham, UK

The hummus in Abu Ghosh is excellent, but nothing compares to the hummus of Abu Hassan in Jaffa!
Eitan Jankelewitz, London

Abu Gosh is famous for its Hummus and Restaurants, but if the BBC will allow me to ignite a hummus war, I have to say that the best Hummus is Abu Hassan in Yaffo. In my opinion the two things that manage to bring Arabs and Israelis together in Israel are music and Hummus.
Shaul, Jerusalem

I hope Lebanon gets exclusivity rights over Hummus in the international market... we need something! I always thought Hummus was Lebanese but I guess it would be hard to determine its real roots. At least we know Taboulah and Fatoush (the two national salads) are Lebanese, till someone claims otherwise!
Elias, London & Beirut

Well.. I don't know why we are arguing, hummus is hummus, good wherever it comes from or whoever makes it. Why don't we just call it "middle east-hummus". There is this tiny place in old Damascus that makes falafel and hummus...just irresistible. I have tried hummus in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan. They are all good, different but so good.
Rasha, Damascus

You have missed Said's Hummus (and only Hummus) restaurant in the market of the old city of Akko. Words will not help; you should come and taste the difference for yourself. People used to come all the way from Alexandria in Egypt and Beirut just for Said's Humus....
Eddy Kaufman, AKKO, Israel

Greeting from Vermont, home of the world's best hummus! Just whipped up a batch: 2 cans chick peas, rinsed, 1/4 cup tahini, juice of large lemon, teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon cumin, 2 garlic cloves, 1 roasted red bell pepper, few dashes chipolte Tabasco, and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Blend until creamy in a food processor, and chill and enjoy!
Karl Albert, Pittsfield U.S.A.

I am originally from Jerusalem and my last name is Hummos and spelled with O at the end not U. O because in Arabic it is spelled with a dammah which is a half the vowel 'O' not the full 'Waw'. Please correct the spelling of my family name and the traditional Palestinian dish. My family tree dates back two thousand years.
I Hummos, USA (Jurusalem, Palestine)

How about a recipe or two for those of us who are not travelling to the Middle East?
Kitty Martin, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

In my humble opinion, the hummus and falafel shop at the end of Rainbow Street in Amman, Jordan called Abu Amar is the best. The old man who started the hummus shop more than 50 years ago still make the best hummus himself, even though his sons and grandsons run the business. His hummus is creamy and deep.
Sam, Singapore via Amman, Jordan

Having spent time in North Africa and the ME I have to say that Damascus hummus reigns supreme. Copious amounts of lemon and olive oil over freshly ground chickpeas. I took a kilo with me last time I visited.
Teddy, SC, USA

To set things straight, no Israeli ever claimed that Israelis invented hummus. We just love eating it.
Amir E. Aharoni, Jerusalem, Israel

You don't know what Hummus is until you visit Abu Gosh! Than again we Israelis joke that the real desire to have peace with Syria and Lebanon is to be able to have hummus in Damascus or Beirut. Than again hummus is not right unless it has Egyptian Full (fava beans), so who's right?
ItsikDeWembley, London

As a mere European, but being married to a Lebanese princess, I have tasted hummus all over the world. I agree with Mr Ibrahim saying that love is a deciding factor in the taste of hummous, in any food for that matter. So obviously, to me the Lebanese hummus tastes the best. And knowing the Lebanese, I wouldn't be surprised if they come up with ten tonnes of hummous to make their point.
Koen, The Netherlands

I don't think they should be jealous the Lebanese beat them to the idea of making the biggest platter of Hummus (you forget we also made the biggest platter of Tabbouli). Even if they conjure all the hummus in the world, they will still be known as those who "Did it because they wanted to beat the Lebanese".
Rossana , Beirut, Lebanon

For any Israeli, Abu Ghosh hummus is a mouth-watering delight It sets the standard. Even Jews, like myself, who do not eat at Abu Ghosh for religious reasons (non-kosher), still copy it.
Yossi, Jerusalem, Israel

Hummus is an Arab dish. Just as the Israelis took Arab land and called it their own, they also take Arab recipes and call them their own. I happily concede corned beef sandwiches at Carnegie's and Matzo, but hands off our hummus!
Denise, Lebanon

The history of the battle of the origins of hummus is probably as old as the history of the world itself. Every time I think I find the world's best somewhere, I find an even better version somewhere else later. Even so, Moroccan hummus has all the right spices...
Yonatan O., Oita, Japan

Having lived in the middle east for four years based out of Amman, Jordan I had opportunity for extensive hummus research. Each country in the region has its own variations on the theme but for my money there is a small shop in the Sweifiah neighbourhood in Amman where the best hummus is made. Creamy with an fantastic balance of garlic, lemon, and chillis.
Michael, Hong Kong via Amman, Jordan

To add to debate, I had always thought the scrumptious chickpea stuff originally came from Morocco?!
Laura, Wales

I have travelled extensively throughout the Middle East and the best Hummus comes from Israel. Every week I stock up at my nearest branch of Sainsbury's with Israeli hummus. I cannot get enough of the stuff.
D Smith, Stoke on Trent



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TIM FRANKS' JERUSALEM DIARY

Tim Franks 29 March
Views from Cairo

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