This gastronomic warfare has been played publicly the last couple of years as Lebanon and Israel have vied for the various titles of world’s best and largest hummus dishes.
Hummus, a regional delicacy, made of chickpeas, sesame paste and garlic among other ingredients is loved equally by Arabs, Jews, and Christians living in the Middle East.
Yet, in spite of their shared appreciation, the origin of the dish is a source of heated debate with both Arabs and Jews claiming ownership.
The latest salvo in the culinary war was fired by the Arab-Israeli village of Abu Gosh Friday with the successful creation of the world’s largest plate of hummus.
Weighing in at over four tons — the same as four average family cars — the ingredients of this monster dip include 2.5 tons of chickpeas, 1.5 of sesame paste, hundreds of freshly squeezed lemons and a vat of crushed garlic.
There was so much hummus that the only “bowl” able to hold the ocean of dip was a satellite dish six meters in diameter, kindly provided by a local telecommunications company.
Abu Gosh restaurant shattered Lebanon’s previous record — set by chefs in Beirut who cooked over two tons of hummus last year — putting Lebanon on the defensive in the battle of chickpeas.
Abu Gosh restaurant owner and one of the event organizers, Jawadat Ibrahim Ibrahim was awarded the Guinness world record for his efforts by Guinness official Jack Brookbank who was present.
Ibrahim said there is no doubt that hummus from his village is better than dip made in Lebanon.
“Today we competed with them and beat them!” He told a crowd of well over thousand amassed to celebrate the record. But breaking records is not Ibrahim’s only aim — he is also proving a point.
“People actually call me from Lebanon on a regular basis just to say that their hummus is better,” Ibrahim told CNN. “If you live in the Middle East, before you’ve learnt to talk, you’ve learnt to love hummus — so I just want the world to know that mine is the best.”
The previous benchmark for the biggest bowl of hummus set by a group of 300 Lebanese chefs was intended to highlight Lebanon seeking approval from the European Union to register hummus as a national dish.
“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.
In 2002, the European Commission gave Greece a “protected designation of origin” right to the name “feta,” for the white sheep and goat’s milk cheese made there. Similar cheeses from outside the country must use terms like “Greek-style cheese”.
Abboud maintains that Israeli companies are depriving Lebanese companies of huge potential earnings by exporting hummus made using traditional Lebanese recipes.
Unsurprisingly, the Israelis see things a bit differently.
“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 credo “give chickpeas a chance.”
“Hummus is a centuries old Arab dish — nobody owns it, it belongs to the region,” continued Galili, who believes the rivalry is about control over the hummus market. Globally, the market is worth $1 billion, according to Abboud.
However, Galili is hopeful that the so-called “hummus war” will be beneficial for relations in the long run.
“If you enter any good hummus restaurant in this region, you will see Jews and Muslims, Palestinians and Israelis sitting at the same table, eating the same food. I think in the end this rivalry will show that we in the Middle East have far more in common than the things that divide us.”
Back in Abu Gosh, Ibrahim says that, for him, the record attempt should not be seen as a politically motivated move, in spite of the on-off hostilities the two countries have been embroiled in since Israel’s founding in 1948.
“The reason I’m doing this is to draw attention to the fact that I make the best hummus in Abu Gosh, and Abu Gosh has the best hummus in the world! Of course, the Lebanese will tell you something different — but competition is healthy, there is no need to bring politics into this,” he said.
In fact, he hopes that at some point the two regions will be united in the name of their shared love.
Ibrahim said: “My dream is that after this, we can set an even bigger world record by teaming up with the Lebanese. How about 10 tonnes?”