Tempest in a hummus bowlTempest in a hummus bowl

Chefs clash over Obama’s menu

With little hope of progress on the peace process, Israelis and Palestinians fight over President Obama’s palate

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Chef Shalom Kadosh (center) poses with chefs of world leaders in Tel Aviv, February 2012. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
Chef Shalom Kadosh (center) poses with chefs of world leaders in Tel Aviv, February 2012. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

US President Barack Obama is expected to have a proverbial full plate of regional conflicts to tackle when he visits Israel and the Palestinian territories in three days’ time, but the grub that lands on his actual full plate is also threatening to turn into a conflagration.

Palestinian chefs have reacted with indignation upon hearing that Obama’s dinner at President Shimon Peres’s residence on Thursday will feature hummus and falafel, presented to the American president as “Israeli cuisine.”

The menu at the president’s residence will reflect “local Israeli cuisine,” Peres’s office told Israeli daily Maariv last week. The first course, prepared by chefs Meggi and Tuly, will consist of falafel balls and hummus, topped by a tehina sauce. The main course will include lamb chops and zucchini flowers stuffed with mushrooms. Fruit and Israeli chocolate will be served for dessert.

Ghassan Abdul Khaleq, a Palestinian chef, told the Palestinian daily al-Ayyam that hummus and falafel are Syrian and Palestinian dishes that “never were, and never will be, Israeli.

“We, a group of Palestinian chefs, are prepared to counter this flagrant Israeli attack on our culture by preparing the official dinner for presidents Obama and Abbas,” Abdul Khaleq told al-Ayyam. “[Our dinner] will reveal the fallacious claims of the occupation and its continuous attempts to rob our folklore, this time in the presence of the president of the biggest country in the world.”

Abdul Khaleq offered to oversee an official dinner for Obama in Ramallah, which would comprise traditional Palestinian dishes including musakhan (a dish of roasted chicken baked with onions and spices), maftoul (a Palestinian version of couscous), and frikeh (young wheat) soup.

The provenance of so-called Israeli food has ignited culture wars between Israel and its neighbors in the past. In 2010, a brief skirmish over hummus was ignited between Israeli and Lebanese chefs, each trying to cook up bigger bowls and claim the dish for “national pride.”

Obama will have less contentious food on Wednesday night, when he dines with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to Israel’s Channel 2 news, chef Shalom Kadosh of Jerusalem’s Leonardo Plaza Hotel will start Obama off with ravioli filled with Jerusalem artichoke; mullet with a green soybean cream; and a grapefruit and pomegranate sorbet.

The main course will consist of roast beef and spring vegetables. For dessert, Obama will eat apple crumble, dates and figs. All products used for the dinner, the Prime Minister’s Office stressed, are grown locally.

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