Home inContext Middle Eastern Food Fight

Middle Eastern Food Fight

Samara Greenberg

In the ongoing battle over Middle Eastern food between Israel and Lebanon, the latter asserted its ownership over hummus Saturday by breaking Israel’s record for creating the world’s largest bowl of chickpea dip. Lebanese cooks whipped up over ten tons of hummus, weighing in at 22,046 pounds. The previous record was set by Israel at four tons.

Moreover, the following day, chefs in Lebanon weighed-in another Guinness record – five tons, or 11,381 pounds, of falafel. According to organizers, this was the first time any country had tried to set such a high falafel record.

While on the surface the culinary competition is good-natured, there is an underlying seriousness to the battle “because food is culture and culture is existence” in the Middle East. Indeed, according to Chantal Tohme, one of the Lebanese hummus event’s organizers, while it is meant to be a fun occasion, the participants also want to set the record straight. “It is more than about the Guinness World Record. It is about proving that hummus is Lebanese…it is being promoted as a non-Lebanese dish, and as an Israeli traditional dish, and it is not. And if we go back to history we see that it came from Lebanon.”

Indeed, the origin of hummus is a topic of contentious debate between Lebanese and Israeli producers, and now Lebanon wants to settle the matter by registering hummus with the European Union as Beirut’s national dish. However, aside from national pride, the rivalry may also be about controlling the world’s hummus market, which is worth $1 billion globally, according to Fadi Abboud, president of The Association of Lebanese Industrialists. Abboud claims Israeli companies are depriving Lebanese companies of huge potential earnings by exporting hummus they make with traditional Lebanese recipes.

Whether the battle is over Middle Eastern culture or the world market, one thing’s for sure: the region’s dishes are one of the few obvious similarities between Israel and its neighbors. And, for years, hummus has worked to bring Israelis and Palestinians together. According to Habeeb Daoud, chef and owner of Ezba, a Palestinian-Lebanese restaurant in northern Israel, “It forces the two nations to cross boundaries. Because in the hummus restaurants, there is little room and Jews and Arabs must sit at the same tables. It forces people to meet.” Indeed, even more spectacular than creating a 22,000 pound bowl of hummus would be Lebanese and Israelis creating that enormous bowl together.