Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Israel and Lebanon Double-Dip the Hummus


Aah, hummus. What would I do without it? In cans, in trays or in the typical brown-and-beige dipping bowls at Leb cafes. Chilled on toast, warm with quboos, slathered over this, scooped in that. A drop of olive oil, a sprinkling of lemon juice ... oh, the explosion of flavors.

And the Israelis are probably more crazy about it than I am. Having taken to it like Britons to curry, they scarf it down for nourishment, comfort and pretty much any excuse. They eat,  extol, and export it almost to the extent that some outside the Arab world might come to think it as no longer vaguely "Middle Eastern", but fundamentally Israeli.

And that really bothers the Association of Lebanese Industrialists, who have declared a cultural war against Israeli hummus dealers (Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war anyway), on the somewhat tenuous claim that hummus is their original heritage. Existing concepts like EU protected geographical status given to other foods like feta cheese, champagne, and parmesan have emboldened them, and they are now planning to sue Israel to stop marketing hummus, falafel and other dishes considered traditional Lebanese cuisine (or traditional Arab cuisine - they seem to be happy to let other Arabs take the credit, as long as it's not Israel).

Here's why it's a tough one. Hummus is not named after any particular place, like Provolone or Roquefort. While it is clearly not an Israeli-origin dish, the fact remains that it is not purely Lebanese. And we can't define a protected origin by what something is not. In this culturally globalized age, education and enterprise are anyway more effective and less embarrassing than protectionism. It's not like Israelis claim that hummus is solely theirs anyway. The more mature (and more economically stimulating) course of action would be for the Lebanese businesspeople, government and citizens to work for the development of a national hummus agro-industrial complex and push Israel out of the hummus market by simply making it more and better than the Israelis.

I would wish them the best on that venture. While they are at it it, I hope they figure out how to get mutabbal into a can as well. Now that would really be the scoop.

UPDATE: Oh, and incidentally, the neighborhood grocery took the words right out of my mouth today, when I found out theyactually do stock canned mutabbal/baba-ghanouj. Awesome!


  1. Hummus or Hoummous in French : I like it !! The best I've tasted here were made in Lebanese restaurants.
    What is mutabbal ?

  2. I heard there are seven different ways to spell hummus. Actually, there are around that many ways to spell almost ANY Arabic word. Arabic is phoenetically very different from standard English, and a consistent and widely-acceptable romanization of Arabic still eludes us (to a lesser extent, we have the same problem with Hindi). Perhaps someday we will get an Arabic version of Pinyin, I hope.

    Mutabbal (one of the spellings for the dish, also spelt Mutabbel or Moutabel) is a sort of hummus that is made with paste of steamed eggplant instead of chickpeas. Taste-wise, it is more than a match for hummus, and in any case should not be left out of even the most basic of mezze spreads.

    For more of the same:

  3. my fave is still masala thosai.. and I always request for extra veggies please...............