In Beirut, chefs break Guinness Book of Records by making world's largest bowls of the hummus and taboulleh.
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World-record quantities of food were prepared in Lebanon last weekend, during a festival that hoped to end the perennial dispute over which country can lay claim to hummus and tabbouleh. The festival was held in Beirut's Saifi Market in front of thousands of cheering bystanders and an adjudicator for the Guiness Book of World Records. It saw 250 of Kafaat culinary school's sous chefs, directed by the chef Ramzi Choueiri, mix 1,350kg of crushed chick peas with about 400 litres of lemon juice to produce a record-setting 2,056 kg of the Arab staple of hummus, obliterating the previous record, set by an Israeli company. The next day, another culinary triumph was achieved when the same chefs-in-training produced a 3,557kg bowl of tabbouleh, beating another record previously held by Israel, when they made 2,359kg of the traditional salad.
After the dishes were prepared, the crowd sang a boisterous a capella rendition of the national anthem, each chef was awarded a Guinness certificate and hands joined for the Lebanese dabke dancing. But the records didn't end with the food. The biggest batches of hummus and tabbouleh can only be held in the largest dish. This one, made from pottery and designed by engineer Jospeh Kabalan, can hold more than three tonnes of food.
The two-day event also had kiosks from other Lebanese chefs and artists, and was hosted by the television presenter Michel Azzi. "We wish that the Lebanese could share this sense of unity all the time," he told the local newspaper The Daily Star. Of course, there i s more to the festival than making lots of food. The Association of Lebanese Industrialists, (ALI) one of the bodies that organised the event, wants to patent hummus and tabbouleh with the European Union, a move which would put the dishes in protected status. ALI claims that the two dishes are to Lebanon what feta cheese is to Greece.
Thanks to a 2002 court ruling, the term "feta" can only be applied to cheese that is made in Greece. Although the two countries are technically still at war, some Israeli food critics have acknowledged that certain dishes, though widely consumed in their country, have undeniable Arab roots - hummus, tabbouleh and falafel among them. In an interview with the BBC, the food editor Gil Hovav said: "Hummus is Arabic. Falafel, our national dish, our national Israeli dish, is completely Arabic and this salad that we call an Israeli salad, actually it's an Arab salad". The origins of hummus remain unknown, though the earliest records of its consumption are from Damascus.
Others theorise it was first made in the 12th century for Saldin, although this particular recipe called for vinegar, replaced by lemon juice later on by the Egyptians. It is most commonly made using mashed chickpeas, tahini, garlic and lemon juice, although there are several variations across the region. Syrian hummus often uses yoghurt instead of tahini. In Israel it is often served hot. The origin of tabbouleh is much less contested. It is widely accepted as traditional Levantine cuisine, though Syria, Iraq and Turkey are among the different countries in the Middle East which have developed their own variations of the recipe (and name). At its most basic, tabbouleh is made from chopped parsley, mint, tomato, onion, herbs, lemon juice, olive oil and bulgar wheat.
Whether the Lebanese have closed the debate, once and for all, remains to be seen. But whatever their origin, what matters the most is how important they have become to local cuisine.