How hummus got political

By Simon Round, April 3, 2008

Cooking in the Danger Zone
BBC2 Sunday March 30

Is there anything that does not cause conflict in the Middle East? As if Israel and the Palestinians did not have enough things to argue about, what with borders and security fences and intifadas, they still find time to argue about who has ownership of the national dish.

In the final episode of the fascinating Cooking in the Danger Zone, presenter Stefan Gates travelled to Israel and the West Bank to investigate the foodie side of the political issues.

He discovered that the national dishes of falafel and hummus are both actually Palestinian. And what we know as the Israeli salad of chopped tomato and cucumber would more accurately be described as an Arabic salad.

So much for the politics of food in Israel; Gates wanted to get his teeth into something that the Charedi community in Mea Shearim would eat on Shabbat. He was given a scarily solid kugel which he reluctantly tasted and looked like he wished he had not.

A short time later, in the Old City, he was tucking into what was described as possibly the best hummus in the Middle East in a small Arab cafe in the Old City. What is that old travel-writing cliche? Ah yes, Israel -— a land of contrasts.

Emboldened by a sublime chickpea dip, Gates ventured deep into the West Bank. And this is where the programme lost its way slightly. There seemed to be plenty of danger zone but not very much cooking. In the settlement of Itamar, we were told how 15 members of the community had been killed by terrorists since its foundation. In the neighbouring Arab village of Yanoun, the local Arabs complained that they could no longer harvest their olives because of intimidation from settlers. True, we did find out that the Arabs eked out rations augmented by UN food aid by making flat bread and rice, and that at a simchah the Jews of Itamar ate chicken and rice, but this portion of the programme could have been subtitled Farming in the Danger Zone or Driving in the Danger Zone — both of which carry with them a high risk of death.

Ultimately, Gates returned to Tel Aviv where there was plenty of food but little danger, despite Gates’s erroneous assertion that the city was under constant threat of terrorist attack.

He seemed fascinated that some Jews were quite happy to eat shellfish and equally fascinated at the lengths other Jews go to avoid bugs in their nosh. Gates certainly preferred the treif. He said: “The Jews in Jerusalem seemed very serious and the food was not great,” whereas Tel Aviv was a city of, well, contrast. Said non-kosher restaurateur Benny: “Here we have food and sailing and fun.”

Sailing in the danger zone — now there’s a programme idea.


Legends: Marty Feldman - Six Degrees of Separation
BBC4, Monday March 30

The affectionate and long overdue tribute to comedian Marty Feldman could easily have been subtitled comedy in the danger zone. His style of performance was physical — reminiscent of his hero, the silent star Buster Keaton. Ironically, his bug-eyed, cross-eyed appearance, which many thought would keep Canning Town-raised Feldman off television, proved to be his trademark. He graduated from The Frost Report to At Last The 1948 Show where he appeared with — and outshone — several future members of the Monty Python team.

The most amazing fact about Feldman, one of the biggest comedy stars of the late 1960s and early 1970s, is that if you are under 40 you will probably have never heard of him — his career floundered when he went trans-Atlantic and by the time of his sudden death at the age of 49 in 1982, he was no longer a big player on the comedy map.

He will not be forgotten — at least by those of us who remember him.

Last updated: 12:41pm, June 2 2008