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Chickpeas and peace in the Middle East

  • 26 June 2018


Food is political, and where I come from, hummus is saturated in politics.

The chickpea is one of the earliest cultivated legumes, dating back over 7000 years. Some claim that hummus was first mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Ruth.

The question of hummus' origin is likely just as ancient. For many, it's a matter of identity, pride, even patriotism. Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Syria and Turkey all claim their version of hummus is the best and most authentic. Hummus elicits passion.

This is why, when at yet another party in Australia, I hear the distinctive crack of the cheap plastic lid, I shudder. Hummus in Australia is an afterthought — anaemic, synthetically flavoured, a quick addition to a party spread.

As I see my friends dip crackers into the overpriced container my mind is thousands of kilometres away, in the best hummus place in Jerusalem's Old City, as the waiter places a fresh, warm bowl of hummus on the table.

The olive oil glistening. Fragrant parsley freshly chopped. Small bowls of raw onion quarters, long green chillies, and bitter olives soon follow, with fluffy pita bread. Far from a mere dip, to me, hummus is a religious experience.

Even arriving at this place had been a kind of pilgrimage. We'd gotten lost, walking in the narrow cobblestone alleyways, past merchants sitting outside their shops smoking and calling out to tourists.


"To say that hummus is the key to peace may be an overstatement, but there is something profound about this obsession that crosses borders, this passion for a simple concoction of chickpeas, tahini, lemon, and garlic that transcends cultural barriers."


I'd wanted to stop and ask for directions, but I felt embarrassed that I can't speak Arabic properly — 20 years in this country and I can't string a sentence together in a language so close to mine. Even Google Maps didn't know where we were.

So I trusted my instincts and, turning a corner, finally, recognised the scent. It overpowered even the smell of damp stone, cigarettes, and incense. I walked through the door as if entering a holy site.

'If only we could sit down with Palestinians for a bowl of hummus, all the problems would be solved,' says my Israeli friend, as we wipe hummus down with warm pita. He isn't the first to say this. Indeed, a film was made about the virtues of hummus, which asked: 'Could a regional love of