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Meir Micha

Pinati Restaurant, Jeruslem


Meir Micha


Meir is the colourful owner of Pinati, a chain of hummus restaurants throughout Israel. The original store is in the heart of West Jerusalem. Meir started making hummus when he was a young boy, by watching his Turkish grandfather who had a small falafel and hummus stall at the Jerusalem market. The first Pinati restaurant was opened by Meir in its current location in 1975. It was a Turkish restaurant. At that time all the hummus was made without machines, by hand. Pinati today is a Jerusalem hummus landmark.



the Interview

Pinati Restaurant, Jeruslem, September 2011


So Meir, tell me how long you've been running your family business, and what do you like about it?


We run the business since 1975. And it's a family business. For us, it's a way of life. We proud of our, our business. Everybody know the name of Pinati in Israel, especially in Jerusalem.


When people come abroad to Jerusalem, they must pass near here. People come and take pictures out [sic] to see the restaurant. They've been in Pinati, and they come and take pictures out, all the famous people who eat here.


They...I like it very, very much, because it's meant for me, very good. I've a, I've a connection, because of this restaurant. Everybody knows me. Everybody invite me wherever I go. Ah, it's Pinati!...Mr Pinati. It's not my name, Mr Pinati. But because restaurant named Pinati, it's [sic] mean ? they call, it's call...they call me Mr Pinati.


And you were saying before, you liked actually coming to work. Can you talk about that?


Usually when someone works 35 years, when you wake up, you say, 'Oh, another day.' No, I wake up, very...like animal and run for the business. I like to be in the business. My family very anger about me. Said, 'All the way at the restaurant. If I come home, what can I do? Sit watching television and...no way! Meet people and, and I like the way, the, the way of my life, and the work.


Pinati Restaurant, JerusalemPinati Restaurant, Jerusalem


Tell me, how do you see hummus? Is it an Israeli food? Is it a Palestinian food? Is it a Lebanese food? What's your view on all of that?


About hummus, we know it's a Middle East food. Oh, first I start with the hummus, as you know, the Arab and the Israeli are the...have same father, Abraham. If you remember, they, they don't...


Yeah, hummus is a Middle East food. As you know, we...our brothers is Arabs, the Muslim, because we have same father, Abraham. We don't argue...they don't argue about us, if Abraham their father and our father. We, we have absolutely agree about it.


About hummus, as you know, in, in the Bible, I find a few words about the hummus 5,000 years ago. They remind hummus, but not the same...hummus is called afunim. Afunim in Hebrew, it's also...they're beans, chickpeas.


So you think it goes back to the Bible?


Yes. I can show you in the Bible exactly where the word is. It called afunim. It's called hummus. Afunim in Hebrew, it's hummus.


And so does that mean to you that it's a Jewish food, because it's mentioned in the Bible?


No, it's not a Jewish food. You know, the Jewish food, that's cholent. You know, it's not cholent. But I mean, from age, from age, hummus is nationality food. Also in the Middle East, they...it's nationality food.


Also, the kugel and the cholent. They're Jewish food. But later, is going to mean, our nationality food is the hummus. You cannot...if you open any frigidaire in Israel, I can bet with you, you open...if you find nobody got hummus...it's like milk...when you go to buy milk, you buy also a can of hummus.


All, all Frigidaire in Israel, they got hummus.


What do you think, when you say to the Lebanese who say, 'No, this is 'our' food,' or the Palestinians who say, 'This is our food'...? The Lebanese Minister for Tourism said to me, 'They stole our land, they stole our culture, now they're stealing our food, our hummus'.


I'm so happy to answer about this question, because first of all, we have argue about food, about hummus. Before, it was about borders, about weapons, about terrorism. Now I hope...all over I argue, going to be about food.


You can say, you can say the Lebanon, the Lebanon...their, their past not like Jewish, as you know. So we was first, like hummus. There is too many different of kind of hummus. You can g-get it for thousand tastes. Every place get...makes, makes a different taste.


I tell you why the Lebanon Minister tell it. You know, we start a few years ago, to make the biggest plate hummus in the, in the world. And then they want to answer, they make it bigger. And then we make bigger. So the fight is coming between the...who make bigger plate of hummus.


And if you going to interview the Minister of Lebanese, what do you expect to, to...he will tell you? That it's Israeli food? Hmm?


No.


No. So...


But he says very strongly, it's a Lebanese food, and the Israelis are stealing it?


What do you mean, stealing it? You know, in the last five years in Israel, every two, every two shops sell sushi...[different pronunciation] sushi. You know, it's Japanese food. Japanese say, we stole? This is food! People eat food! And what about the bread, and milk? From who, we stole the milk? From the French?


From, from who we stole other food? This is...we are very big world. All kind of, thousand of food. And we love, we love the food But I can tell you something. To, in...


Okay. I can tell you, every few years, the Israel M-Minister check our, our, our kilogram, Israeli eat hummus. Do you know, in Israel, it's the biggest kilo, most kilo that Israeli eat hummus during the year. Not like Lebanon. Lebanon, by the 'way' they eat hummus.


They're not like the French, they eat...they drink the wine more, more than everyone in...all over the world. The Israeli eat hummus more than any national in the world.


Okay, I guess the argument is about who started it? Who did it first?


The Israeli did it first. The Israeli do the hummus...everybody know! You can check in internet. You can ask everyone everywhere, the Israeli...you know, if it was Lebanese f-food, I mean, nationality food, how can Israeli make all the big factory all over the world, about hummus...and then even 'our' factory? You know how much we sell hummus around the world? So if it say, Lebanon food, they can try to do it. Nobody tasted it better. They know, hummus belong to Israel.


And you've mentioned that hummus is mentioned in the Bible. How do you know about that?


All my life is hummus. Wherever I go, I see hummus. Doesn't matter. I taste. If I listen, someone of the restaurant, I want, I want...I wear my hat with my glasses, and go to spy, to see how the different...how it tastes, like me. I'm sick about hummus. It's...all my life is hummus.


Preparinging a fresh plate of hummus at Pinati in JerusalemPreparinging a fresh plate of hummus at Pinati in Jerusalem


Okay, so how do you know it's in the Bible?


So I check. I told you, I check, from where it, from where it start, because it's our way of my life. You know, like, someone search about his business. My business is hummus. I dream about hummus. I make hummus. I love hummus. I talk with hummus.


How did your business start? Tell me about your grandfather's story?


In the end of the 19th century...In the end of the 19-, my grandfather used to live in Turkey. Yeah, Jews...used to live in Turkey, in a place called Aram-Tsuba. It's the place when Ramavila born. And he decide to come to Israel.


And his work over there...he was a very young boy, my grandfather his work was in restaurant. He used to make falafel and hummus. And when he come to Israel, he start with a small store. And, and in 1912, he decided to go back to Turkey.


So he go to Turkey, and he been after the First World War. And then after, when the war had finished, he came to Jerusalem. On the way, I tell, I tell you, going, come, going, come, it's not by plane, not by train...I mean, by donkeys. It's took three months to come.


And after the First World War, when he come to Jerusalem, he opened a s-, very, very small store, only for hummus and falafel, and for kugel. You know, kugel, it's also Lebanese. They will tell you, it's, it's, 'Therefore, no, it's 'our' food,' again.


So he start, and when we was kids at...I mean, 50 years ago, when we finished school, his store was not far from our school. So in this age, and this time, not was internet and television. After school, you go to the market to see your grandfather.


And then I watch as a kid, what he do. And I started to love the business. And I start to help him, until '73. In '73, he die, and then we decide, what you going to do in his store.


This store was...it belonged to my father. It was a coffee shop. And in '75, we decide to make it Turkish restaurant, I mean, because we came from Turkey. And the main thing in the restaurant is...was the hummus. And thanks God.


So as a little boy, did you used to watch your grandfather making hummus?


Yes. But in this time we don't work at a machine. This time, he, he make it with his hand, like this. We, how you say...it was very hard to work...to make it.


So he made it all by hand?


Yeah. All by hand.


And you were just a little boy, watching?


Yes. Watching. Yes.


It's a good story.


Yeah. I tell this to my children also. They like this story. But at point...I tell them every Friday...they fed up every Friday, just so they listen to the story.


Do you come from a religious background? A religious family background?


Actually, all, all these Jews was religious, 200 years ago. And at the time, forgot about to do these things, and those things, and because when we got our independent, all over, all, all over, Israeli was religious. Now it's half and half.


Me, I'm not very religion. But, as I feel...sometime, religion, sometime I not religion. But kosher food, I eat al-, always I eat kosher food. But, doesn't matter wherever I stay. All over the world, I find kosher food.


So is this a kosher restaurant?


Sure. Pinati is, in Israel, all over. Most of the, here, restaurants, especially in Jerusalem, must be kosher, because we have license. When you got license, kosher, it's better.


So it's all supervised by a Rabbi?


Supervised by a Rabbi, yes, and they ? come check every day, yes.


Given that your family background is Turkish...


Yes, and the other side is...my grandfather from my mum, is from Turkish. And 'our' grandfather from my father, he came from Syria. Pl-Place called Aleppo...Halab. There is a lot of problem over there...Halab. And they also came in the same time to Jerusalem. We and they used to live down the road [coughs], excuse me...They used to live down the road. And then my father and my mother meet, and not far from here.


Doesn't that make you a cousin to the Arabs? Your family background is in the Middle East. Doesn't that mean you're really connected to the Arabs?


Listen. We love Arabs. We...our best, my best friend's Arab. I talk with all the Arabs. They work with me together. We go out, out to, sometime to enjoy. Between...I tell you, between us, there's no fight! The little bit of the problem...they're proud. You can see in my place, five works, Arab...four, four works, Jewish. Yesterday, my work[er] was ill...you know, the Arab...call him to ask him how he, how he feel.


You see. The connection, it was excellent. You can go down to the old city. You will, you meet a lot of Israeli, make business, eating, travelling. The point, the problem is only between the leaders, not between us.


So did you grow up eating hummus at home?


Since I know myself, I'd say, only until I go to the school, I eat only oriental food. So it was hummus, kebab, kubbeh. We didn't eat cheese when we was kids. That's why we grow. All of us grow.


But what makes a good hummus. What makes your hummus good?


I tell you what make good work. If you work from your heart, anything you do is going to be fantastic. But if you don't go...you don't feel to do something. We have the way of life here, you see. We work from our heart. We want to keep all customer...it's for me, like cousins, like family. I don't make the business only for money. I like money also. But we're treating very nicely, because, you know, we like Hasidim, you know. It's Hasidim. We got a lot of Hasidim. We should do...we must take care about them.


Is it the ingredients that's important, or is it the maker? What goes into it? Is it the chickpea that's important, or is it the maker?


What's the most important? Is it the experience of the person making it? Or is it the ingredient, like the chickpea, the tahini, the lemon, the olive oil?


Both of them. But if you take the same stuff, give it to one person to do it for you, and other person, it's not going to be the same...[stutters] the boy...the guy who make the hummus should know how to do it. The stuff, it doesn't...it, it matter. But how it's going to be the end of the work, it's only de-depends about who going to make it. I mean, the human being.


If you work from your heart, you're going to be fantastic. And about fresh hummus, you must make it every few hours. It's not e-, you done it for a week. It's not frozen food. It's not commercial food. You do sometime three, four times a day.


Do you have a secret recipe?


Yes.


Tell me about it?


We not going to tell the story. The...to work from your heart.


Nothing more than that?


I keep it for my son. They know it.


Making a fresh plate of hummus at Pinati in JerusalemMaking a fresh plate of hummus at Pinati in Jerusalem


Is your secret recipe something that you learnt from your grandfather?


Yes. In our restaurant, only four people know the...how to do hummus. In all the community, four people know how to make it.


Where do your chickpeas come from?


You know, I wrote many letters to the Israeli Commission. I tell them, how can Israel, used to many hummus, about the falafel and the hummus, if you don't grow up. All the kibbutz in before, used to do chickpeas...to grow chickpeas. Now they stuck. Only few of them.


Most of the chickpeas come from our lovely neighbours, the Turks.


Good quality?


Very good quality. Yes. And the sesame come from...you know sesame...tahini...the stuff, when you make tahini. Tahini, you make in Israel, you know, to blend it. But the stuff grow, the sesame, it's came from Mexico.


What are the ingredients that you use?


Listen, it's very, very simple to make hummus. I mean, the stuff, it's very simple. You take hummus...chickpeas, you use sesame. You put onion, fresh lemon, and salt. This is the main things to do hummus. But everybody get a different way how to do it. Before, after, cold water, hot water, le-, fresh lemon or...not fresh lemon...


Do you put onion in yours?


Onion? No, no, no, no.


You said onion. Garlic, you meant garlic?


Garlic.


We put...to do hummus, it's very simple stuff. You should put, I mean the stuff, it's chickpeas, sesame, garlic, salt, and fresh lemon. And how to do it, it depends on who, who going to do it. There's many ways to do it. In a way, sometime you want fresh lemon, sometime not fresh lemon. Sometime, kind of sesame, sometime...everybody got...is very vain about how to do hummus. But it's thousand kinds of hummus. Just all of them, that's good. Sometime you like our...my hummus. Other people like other hummus. It's like, you know, like football. Even they don't play good, sometime people like this thing. You see, people,...all our...all the, the way of life, always better food serve.


What do you think of the Lebanese Minister saying that hummus doesn't belong to the Israeli?


First of all, I'm happy this is our argue, about us, about hummus, not about terrorism, or about the border, about weapons. I can tell you this, Minister, for 100 percent, is Israeli food, from nature. Israeli food, everybody know, you can go all over the world, ask people. Doesn't matter. In Indonesia, in America, in France, what is hummus? They tell you, it's Israeli food.


Tell me about your customers. Who are they?


The hummus, it's our nationality food. It's...you can...everybody afford it. Poor, rich, Minister, Prime Minister, everybody...taxi driver. This is...if you see, it's a very small place. Should come here and see eat lunch, what go in here. Workers, clean, clean work[ers], or who is a mechanic or who is taxi driver. Everybody eat hummus!


But the point is... Everybody... Everybody eat hummus. It's our nationality food. You can see...you can meet here at lunchtime when it's busy...all kind of people. Sometime, Ministers sit in this chair, and this chair. Taxi driver, or officer, big officer, or someone with...is theirs.


People like hummus. Israeli like hummus.


Lee Fishman and Jenni Meaney  - lunch break Pinati, JerusalemLee Fishman and Jenni Meaney - lunch break Pinati, Jerusalem


Do you get lovers coming here?


Lovers? No, it's not place for lovers. Lovers, you need candle and wine. We don't sell...It's not food for lovers. Not...it's only fast food. For lover, you need a candle, and a bottle of wine, and eat dinner.


So do you get Jewish and Arabic customers?


Yes. Yesterday it was very big table outside. Arab, and opposite them, Jewish. And you know what about they talk? Not about politician, not about Catholic. About the hummus, and about the weather, and about the, the train, you know. As you know, we have now, after 2,000 years, a new train. And they talk about the train. Nobody talk about politician.


So you've got lots of Arabic customers?


A lot of Arabic...I tell you, between food, there is no border. We also go out to eat in the Old, Old City. If you go now to the Old City, you see a lot of Israeli there eating with them. I tell you, the, the, the argue is not between us. It's between the leaders.


What about the people who work for you? Where do they come from?


Actually, all over, we got from the Old City, workers. And we got from our Israeli...work together.


I'm asking because some people tell me that Palestinians work in Israeli hummus places, and they make the best hummus?


Okay. I can tell you, for 100 percent, you can come tomorrow, and friend if you want. The same guy here, made the hummus 30 years, is an Israeli guy. Every morning, 5:30 in the morning, he will come, make the hummus. Nobody except this guy, and except me, touch this hummus...for ages I mean. They work in the kitchen, yes. But not making hummus. Making hummus, I tell you before, it's our secret. We don't tell it to anyone.


You served in the army?


Yes.


Did you eat hummus in the army?


Since a boy, I eat hummus. Doesn't matter, in the army, in...abroad, in...at home, at work. Hummus, it's for me, way of life! I eat every day, hummus.


I'm interested in the conflict, and how that has impacted on you personally? Have...


Remind me, the army...you know, 30 years ago, I was in Lebanon. You know, it was a small world between us. Not world was argue between us. And we came to Qaraoun Lake. You know, it's Qaraoun Lake. It's very nice place in Lebanon.


And all the soldier['s] first question, 'Excuse me, where can get hummus? Where we get hummus?' We go to eat hummus. It was very good.


So they 'do' make good hummus in Lebanon?


They 'do' hummus. They 'do' hummus. I tell you, I...when we arrived in Lebanon, Israeli ask, 'Where is the hummus? We want to eat hummus. We like it.'


Listen, we passed, really, we passed a very different time here, about the conflict, about the terrorism. You know, to work in the same place as Arab...we work with them 20 years. And someone blow in the front of the restaurant. I can show you. And you see the blood, and see people. And you know how to do. Your ? words...it's so good with you. You like family. Go to Israeli. They come to your party. And when they saw the bomb, when it, it was in terror in...we don't all continue today, after. And they come say, 'We're sorry, we're sorry.' What, what, what we can do?


So life goes on?


Life goes on.


Okay.


People want, people want to live. People want to come to work, to get salary, to go to his home, back, to buy stuff for the kids, to go to school. People don't want to wake up, only fight, fight, fight, fight. People want to live! This is their nation. The nation...this is the world.


You came to live for 70, 60, 80, 90 years. You don't want to spend it in arguing about terrorism. So these guys understand. They come here. They work. They got good salary. They can eat anything they want. They, after the work, go home. They live like a human being.





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