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Perhaps the world's biggest hummus...

ABU GOSH - At the risk of whipping up discord with Lebanon, an Arab-Israeli village is planning to make the world's biggest hummus, a humble chickpea dip that stirs passions across the Middle East.

On Friday (January 8, 2010), residents of the village of Abu Gosh, near Jerusalem, will mash up 4,000 kilogrammes (8,800 pounds) of chickpeas, sesame paste, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic.

That is twice as much as the Guinness record set in October, 2009 by chefs in Lebanon, Israel's neighbour, longtime political foe and culinary rival.

An inexpensive, nutritious and tasty dish, hummus is the great leveller in the Middle East, enjoyed by rich and poor, by Muslims, Jews and Christians and by Israelis and Palestinians.

"It is something we have in common. Something all of us love," says Shooky Galili, an Israeli journalist who runs the Hummus Blog that seeks to "give chickpeas a chance".

But it is also the root of heated disputes that rattle friendships and fuel animosities between longtime foes.

Lebanon, technically at war with Israel since the Jewish state was created in 1948, recently sought to have the European Union register the popular dip as a Lebanese specialty.

The Lebanese Society for Industrialists claims Israeli businesses are robbing them of tens of millions of dollars in potential earnings by exporting packaged hummus made with traditional Lebanese recipes.

This drew outrage, derision and bemusement in Israel.

"Hummus can't be owned by anybody. It's like saying someone owns bread," says Galili, who calls himself "The Hummus Guy".

He deplores the bad blood over his favourite dish, but admits that the hummus war "is certainly one of the nicest wars we have in the region. If all our battles were like that it would be wonderful."

Hummus is sometimes described as one of the oldest known prepared foods, eaten in the Middle East for centuries. But its origins have become lost in the sands of time.

Some suggest its roots might be traced to ancient Rome or Greece, but voicing such theories out loud is not recommended in this volatile region.

Galili says it is irrelevant who first came up with the tasty concoction that has become an integral part of Middle Eastern culture, suggesting it should be seen as God's gift to the region.

In the Holy Land it enjoys near-cult status.

Often shared with family and friends, with everyone dipping their pita bread in the same plate, the ubiquitous dish crosses Israeli-Palestinian boundaries.

Israelis generally recognise the best hummus is made by Arabs.

But arguing about who serves the best hummus, and whether it should be creamy or chunky, is not for the faint-hearted. Just about everyone has a favourite hummus joint and is willing to defend it at high volume and with much gesticulation.

One name that often comes up is that of Abu Shukri, a hole-in-the-wall family-run hummus eatery that has become a landmark in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City.

Hummus pundits also hold the traditional restaurants in the historic Arab-Israeli cities of Jaffa and Acre in high esteem.

And many aficionados have a soft-spot for Abu Gosh, an Arab-Israeli village a few minutes drive from Jerusalem, which on weekends is packed with hungry day-trippers on a search for the holy grail of hummus.

Jawadat Ibrahim, who owns a restaurant named after the village and is organising the Guinness bid, acknowledges that "Lebanese hummus is very good" but boasts that "Abu Gosh is the hummus capital of the world" -- fighting words to rival fans.

Hummus fiends in these parts tend to be as loyal to their eatery of choice as sports fans to their club.

"Even if your football club doesn't win the championship, you still believe it's the best and everyone else is wrong. With hummus it's the same; there's no way you'll convince anyone their favourite is not the best," says Galili.

Passionate hummus arguments do not, however, degenerate into hooliganism, he adds reassuringly.

"We argue but we don't kill each other."

* * * * *


Published on 1/7/10

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