Excerpt from “The Hummus Route” (Magica, 2019).
Co-creators: Ariel Rosenthal, Orly Peli-Bronshtein, and Dan Alexander
Photos by Yaron Brener.
A Palestinian, a Lebanese, and an Israeli walk into a bar… this is not the beginning of a joke; this is the story of how Ariel and I met Hind, a Palestinian chef, and Karim, a French chef originally from Lebanon, in a Parisian bar that is a renowned institution overlooking the Louvre Museum. We were excited and tense, each of us burdened with a baggage of sorts mostly made up of prejudice. It was a blind date between cultures and, as blind dates go, the initial chatter, broken language, insecurities, and all other patterns of reality were but simple attempts to break the ice between us, right there and then around our table at 39 rue de l'Amiral de Coligny, not far from the Mona Lisa and all that stands for French elegance and restraint.
We waited for our second round of martinis. Suddenly, Ariel presented a gift – a tub of tahini that he brought especially from Nazareth. In an instance the restraint we may have felt, our wobbly words, and all of the alcohol fumes around us simply evaporated into thin air in the very presence of this soulful tub. Then, in a flash and without any warning, things heated up Middle Eastern style with our tempers soaring up for the real battle: What is the right amount of tahini for making hummus. Karim cried “Almost none!” Ariel jumped back “In large amounts, always!” and words turned to shouts really quickly.
But the Mona Lisa fluttered her eyelids to remind us where we all were, so we just burst out laughing, realizing that in this one blazing moment shared by us passionate, happy people joined by one common identity, a real romance had just sparked, because, in the end of it all, it is all about humanity. Since then we have met many times, for precious moments of partners that travel on a utopian journey, filled with friendships, recipes, and dreams.
This magical joint journey of ours follows the Hummus Route, an imaginary route that I envisioned in my mind’s eye between places, people, and dreams, across the hummus capitals of the Middle East, from Cairo all the way up to Damascus, via Gaza, Jaffa, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Acre, and Beirut. It is a road of revelation that runs in a landscape of yearning, sesame seeds, joy, pain, thoughts, tears, and laughter, orbiting around the rediscovery of one of the world’s most ancient raw materials, which goes far beyond borders and into the realms of diverse cultures in the history of mankind.
With the story of the chickpea we can find the story of us all, from the tables of kings, sultans, secret alleyways in age-old marketplaces, and ancient manuscripts, to the food stalls of bustling streets and hushed high-end restaurants. On this journey, we raised our heads from the pita pocket and the plate, to find ourselves eager to travel on this old-new road, between these cities, as we shared our dreams, lots of hummus and falafel, and one bright new world for all, because this appetite, the tastes, and these huge amounts of tahini culminate into the unity of a virtue, the talking and listening of a dialogue, because in the end of it all, it is all about humanity.
We also discovered that hummus is a culture in its own right, opening up a space that constantly seeks an identity, and our journey uncovered glorious culinary traditions of past and present. Hummus has reinvented itself over and over again, always asking to be rediscovered, in every moment, anew. While the chickpea retains its identity, it offers us a fresh and unfamiliar tradition of a whole new social order.
For us, a definition of an identity was unveiled, which relies on the past but faces the future with a big smile, because chickpeas dissolve any fixed concept by telling us that hummus is made with love, or not made at all. And this river of time flowing through our journey, has engulfed us into this space of a void, in an infinite dialogue of flavors and the endeared closeness of friendships. Because, in the end, it is all about humanity, and food can only bring hearts closer together.
In our wanderings, we came across one particularly beautiful legend. It tells of a gold-hearted sultan who treated the entire village to a royal feast, once every year. Among the countless beverages and dishes set before his guests, he served a rice and lamb stew speckled with chickpeas. Inside this dish, the sultan would hide one chickpea made of pure gold. The guest that found this lucky grain in their serving was crowned the winner, and lavishly rewarded with riches and treasures for life. On our part, the blessing that this chickpea of pure gold has bestowed on us, is the very privilege of enriching our lives with magical moments of gold, when our hearts beat together as one. Within the folds of this book, we too have sprinkled many golden grains to be discovered by each of our readers, hoping to enrich their life with dreams and flavors forever.
I wish the warmest thank you to Orly and Ariel, and all those travelers who shared this journey with us into a new future. Our eyes have been opened as our hearts have embraced and recognized that in the end of it all, it is all about humanity.
Dan Alexander is an international award-winning designer and thought leader, the founder and creative director of Dan Alexander & Co., an innovation, design, and branding lab headquartered in Paris. Dan collaborates with opinion leaders and creatives worldwide, to intercept technology, philosophy, and design. His publication Seafoodpedia won the prestigious Gourmand International Cookbook Award. He lives and works in Paris and in the Périgord region in the South of France.