Typically associated with the Middle East, hummus, falafel and couscous dishes are now widely enjoyed in Australia and can be found in food trucks, food courts, in supermarkets and as part of home cooked meals across the country. country.
But the origins of these dishes are often subject to much controversy. So where do they come from and what is the story behind these dishes that mean so much to so many and can be linked to identity, place and memory?
Finding the origins and “owners” of a food can be tricky business. Such is the case with these delicious treats, which are all claimed by more than one nation.
Hummus and the mystery of its origins
Therese Elias learned how to make her hummus recipe from her mother-in-law when she was 18 and living in her native Lebanon.
Her love for cooking grew after her marriage, and she became determined to pass on the traditions she had learned from her mother and stepmother to her own children.
“When I came here and started a family, I really wanted to teach my children about the traditions of my childhood.”
The most popular Lebanese dish she makes is hummus made from chickpeas.
Therese, who lives in Sydney, says she adds a secret ingredient to her recipe to make it taste even more special.
“I put all my love into my hummus dish, I’m careful, I know how much my kids and everyone around me loves it.”
In addition to her secret ingredient, Thérèse’s hummus consists of chickpeas, which she peels individually, tahini, garlic, salt, lemon juice and an ice cube, which is essential to make it smooth and creamy.
“A Lebanese table without hummus is not complete, it must always be served at any Lebanese table and on any occasion,” she said.
Thérèse Elias makes hummus with her granddaughter.
The dish, which has become a staple in many Australian homes, originated in the Middle East. However, the true source of the famous dish is now widely disputed.
According to Egyptian national Ramy Hillal, hummus originated in Egypt.
“Hummus has been part of Egyptian culture for hundreds of years. It is eaten in many cultures today, but historically it was first found in Egypt…” he said.
But according to Professor Burcu Cevic-Compiègne of the Center for Arabic and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University, the real origins of hummus have never been traced. This is due to the widespread trade that has occurred in the Middle East and North Africa region throughout history.
“We must not forget that this region was famous for their trade; merchants traveled across Arabia and North Africa to sell and buy different supplies – this is why it is very difficult to trace the exact origin of a particular food,” said Professor Cevic-Compiègne.
I put all my love in my hummus dish, I’m careful.
Thérèse says that although she grew up with hummus, she is not 100% sure of its origins.
One thing she is sure of is that no other variation of hummus compares to the Lebanese type.
“I know many countries make hummus, but I’m most proud of the hummus we make as Lebanese. Our hummus is the best, no one does it like us.
Can a country claim falafel?
Falafel is another Middle Eastern dish that has made its way into Australian culinary culture.
Crispy fried snacks are a mixture of chickpeas or beans, fresh herbs and spices that are formed into small patties or balls.
Unlike hummus, historians have been able to trace falafel to 16th-century Egypt. However, it is unclear whether it was founded there or transferred through trade or migration.
The uncertainty of its origins means the dish has become a staple in many Middle Eastern cultures, including Egypt.
Ramy Hillal explains how a single ingredient sets the Egyptian version of falafel apart from the rest of the Arab world.
“Some countries in the region share the origins of certain dishes, like for example some call it tamiya or some call it falafel, but we have a different version of it, that’s why we call it tamiya. The base of the Egyptian version is based on broad beans, the base of the other versions is based on chickpeas. They look alike, they’re both fried, so it’s a bit the same but a bit different,” Mr Hillal said.
Falafel rolled out of hot oil at a restaurant in Cairo, Egypt. Credit: Joel Carillet/Getty Images
Influencer Lara Hawash is of Palestinian descent and she says falafel, among many other traditional dishes, reminds her of her family in her hometown of Nablus.
“I come from Nablus in Palestine and every time I eat traditional food, I remember walking through the shops in Palestine where there would always be stalls selling falafel or knafeh (a traditional dessert made from pasta filée, sweet syrup and cheese), so just seeing it or smelling it reminds me of my homeland.
Falafel is also extremely popular in Israel.
Ronit Gabriel is from Israel but is now based in Canberra where she works for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. She explains how falafel and many other dishes became popular in her native country as a result of migration.
“Israeli cuisine is just a mixture of people from North Africa, Central Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and they all brought together something from their tradition and this melting pot what is Israel is also Israeli cuisine.”
She explains how a touch of modernity and innovation is brought to these traditional dishes to make them their own.
“It’s typical for Israelis to try another way, a different recipe or modify it to make your own. For example, for falafel, we have flavored falafel. Originally in Egypt, they were made with broad beans or chickpeas but we have added flavored versions like paprika or with a curry flavor.
Whenever I eat traditional food, I remember walking around the shops in Palestine…just seeing it or smelling it reminds me of my homeland.
But adaptations and modernizations of these traditional recipes are not always welcome in the region.
Lara says food is central to her culture, their recipes are part of what defines the Palestinian Territories, and she says she feels frustrated when she sees other cultures claiming traditional Arab foods as their own, especially when they are countries with which they have been in conflict for several decades.
“To claim something that isn’t theirs makes me really frustrated because it’s our culture…that’s why it’s always important for us to keep mentioning foods and their origins so people don’t don’t forget.”
Why couscous is inscribed on the World Heritage List
Couscous has found its way into kitchens, cafes, restaurants, pubs and supermarket shelves across Australia.
The tiny granules of rolled semolina, often served as a side dish or in a salad, are commonly attributed to French or Israeli culture.
But his heritage is broader than that. Couscous is recognized on UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage, the result of a joint application by the African countries of Algeria, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia.
Friends share a meal of couscous. Credit: Floris Leeuwenberg/Getty Images
Ghania Rahli is a Berber woman from the villages of northern Algeria. She says couscous is a central part of traditional Aboriginal culture.
“It’s our main course and what we eat for special events, celebrations and family gatherings,” she said.
Traditionally, North African couscous is served as a main dish, with a tomato-based sauce, and cooked with vegetables and meat.
“At home, we make it from scratch, we sift the semolina with special sieves to reduce it to these little balls. It’s a long process, but nothing tastes better than when we make it fresh.
She says that, like so many other traditional dishes, it’s important to recognize their origins as a representation of that culture and its individual characteristics.
“So many people today when they think of couscous don’t think of our culture, and it’s quite sad, it’s a beautiful dish and it represents our origins, our ancestors and making people know about where he comes from is also about preserving our richness and a unique culture.