I was wondering about the chickpea today. This nutritious legume is high in protein and has been around for a very long time. In fact, I read somewhere that remains of the chickpea have been found in the Middle East dating as far back as 7500 years.
La famille went for a little stroll in the Marais today. I love this quartier of Paris because it is always very lively there on a Sunday. It is easy to get lost in the Marais because the area called the Marais is actually pretty big. I wanted to explore the part where the shop windows display pretty funky things and where there is always a long line outside a particular falafel eatery. This part of the Marais is predominantly Jewish, I was told and the food is a mix of Lebanese and Middle Eastern. It is rather difficult to define the Middle East and for the sake of ease, the Middle East consists topographically of the countries in Western Asia and North Africa. This makes it a fairly large area geographically.
I was fascinated by a dish known as Humous/Hummus/Humus. It doesn’t matter how you spell it, the names all mean the same thing – a Levantine dip made of mashed chick peas, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. This dish is eaten from Greece to Syria to Israel to Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon. In fact, in October 2008, a group of industrialists in Lebanon filed a petition to the Lebanese Ministry of Economy asking them to seek permission from the European Commission totypify humus as a uniquely Lebanese food much like the Pachino tomatoes of Sicily or the Camembert from Normandie, thus creating a huge controversy around this ancient recipe. The Lebanese felt that their national dish has been usurped by their neighbouring country, Israel. This caused Shooky Galili an Israeli journalist and food blogger with an entire blog dedicated to the hummus to say that this is really preposterous as the dish belongs to the region and cannot be claimed by one country as their own. I tend to agree with this statement because it would be just as preposterous for me to claim Laksa as a uniquely Singaporean dish when it is eaten in various forms in Malaysia and to a lesser extent in Indonesia. It is a unique dish, no doubt, in that it derived from the Peranakan culture which is a marriage of Malay and Chinese elements.
Humous is eaten, it seems to me, in all the regions where the Ottoman Turks have had the pleasure to claim their own.
Today, I discovered Humous again. I’ve been eating humous for a long time in London without paying much attention to the historical background of this ancient dip. In London, the Humous I’ve had the pleasure of tasting seems to have come from mainly Lebanese eateries where it is sometimes served warm with slivers of moist and aromatic lamb or chicken and a generous drizzle of olive oil. This is known as Humous Shwarma and is yummy spread into pitta bread pockets. I’ve had Humous in Greek restos and this is usually just a smooth paste that is eaten as a dip with pitta bread. I’ve bought Israeli Humous in the supermarkets and this normally has whole chickpeas in the paste.
At Chez Marianne, I fell in love once more with this creamy, unctuous dip. I ordered a grande assiette consisting of a choice of 6 dips from the buffet. I chose the Humous, of course, Tahini which is similar in consistency to the Humous except that this dip is made from sesame. I had a caviar of aubergines marinated in olive oil, garlic and herbs, a Tzasiki dip, made with cucumber and mint mixed in yogurt and a tuna and tomato spread. And let’s not forget the vine leaves and tuna.
For 16€, I had my fill of a typical Middle Eastern spread. Then the lady of the house, Marianne herself came over to say hello and shook her head at my choice. She despaired at the over selection of creamy dips and promptly brought over, gratuit, a dish that consisted of aubergines baked with tomatoes, a sweet pepper and tomato stew which reminded me of the caponata in Sicily, and a brik, a filo pastry parcel filled with minced beef. I’ve only ever had brik in Tunisia where it is served with an egg enrobed in filo pastry thins.
This was truly sumptuous. I wish I had the word in Arabic for yummy!
As dips are thus defined, they all must be eaten with something that you can dip into. We were served a basket of bread and to try the house specialities, we ordered a bagel, pitta and an onion bread.
The breads were all fresh and delicious. The consistency of the bagel wasn’t what I had expected. It was soft, slightly sweet and fluffier that the bagels I am used to. In fact, this bagel really reminded me of the challah, a typical festive Jewish bread. Very sedap, my friends!
For dessert, for all things nice must end with all things even nicer, I had my favourite – halva.
Don’t let this insipid looking sweet trick you, kawan kawan. Sometimes, plain Janes have more to them than meets the eye. This sesame based dessert disintegrates in your mouth, leaving a creamy after taste of sesame and honey. It was no wonder that I ate so much of it during my second pregnancy. RN is partly made of halva, is the running family joke. In fact, halva is a generic Arabic word that refers to a dense and sweet confection made either from flour, typically semolina or tahini which is a sesame paste.
Try! Then tell me what you think, kawan kawan. You can’t miss Chez Marianne, it is an ivy covered cottage on the Rue des hospitaliére st Gervais in the Marais district.
Don’t forget the Humous and the various cream based dips. That was how we got to eat the other stuff for free!