Hummus Ashkara, Tel Aviv
Ruth is the charismatic co-owner of Hummus Ashkara, which has a reputation for being the best 'hummusiya' in Tel Aviv. Ruth has an Italian father and a Tunisian mother and was born on the ship that bought her parents to Israel in 1962. Hummus is not part of the Tunisian kitchen so Ruth's appreciation and love of hummus comes from her life growing up in Israel. Prior to establishing Hummus Ashkara, Ruth worked as a nurse. She owns the restaurant with her husband and describes it as a 'labour of love'.
Tel Aviv, September 2011
So the way I started this movie idea was the idea of the hummus war. Where does hummus come from? Is it Israeli? Is it a Lebanese food? Is it a Palestinian food? Just giving where you think on...
'This is 'my' food. This is 'my' food'. I don't care, you know. If they want a credit, they can have it. Anyone who wants the credit, with pleasure, I give it to him, because, you know, I sell my food, I sell hummus. I don't care where it cames from, really.
They like the way I do it. They like the taste of what I'm doing. And that's fine with me. If, if the Lebanese say that it belongs to them, it's yours. Have it! I don't bite. Food...when you work with people and you make these things, you know, like food, you have to be a good person, 'cause you meet so many people.
You meet Arabs, Ethiopians, Russian, Jewish, not Jewish, religious, because it's kosher. You have to be really a good person to, to work it out with all these, all these kind of people. So it's very important. It doesn't really matter who invented it, you know. Like, okay, they say they invented it. Take it. I don't care! I'm just having my money selling the best thing I know, and that's fine, you know. It's cool with me.
So when I spoke to the Lebanese Minister for Tourism, Fadi Abboud, he's the person who led the whole hummus war, he said, 'The Israelis have stolen our land, they've stolen our culture, now they're stealing our food'. So what do you think about that?
Come on, this is not even...it's not even similar, the taste, of the same qualities. This is different. It's the way we're doing it that's different. It's...the products are different. It's...well, listen, we are in a war with them for years. So what do you expect from them to say? What...good things on us? What?
Years we fly to Turkey, there was no problem. Now, suddenly, we are un-nice people? Unacceptable people? Well you know, these...I don't want to sound like racist. I'm not, 'cause you know, I'm working with Arab people. Half of my employees are Palestinians, you know.
They live in the territory...Israeli territory. But they all come from Palestine. They are Palestinian. And that's cool with me. I love them as my family. It doesn't really...I don't put politics and sports in my job. And I've learned that all my.....because...I'm a fan of a Tel Aviv team of football. It's Hapoel Tel Aviv, okay.
And Maccabi Tel Aviv, they hate us. So, in the beginning, when they make the first interview, I didn't know 'how' to take this, at those interviews. I say, 'I'm a fan of Hapoel Tel Aviv. Come on and pour and things with the...'...and the fans of Maccabi didn't come to eat here, because they...I was her, their enemy.
So this is the same there. If they knew us, us, as person...they don't even know what they're missing. They're missing great people.
But just, just to interrupt, they take it very seriously because the Lebanese really believe that hummus is theirs.
No. And I tell you, in, in, in the Jewish Megillat is the Megillat of Ruth. That's my name. It's writing there on the Megillat. It's the Bible, kind of a part of a Bible. It's writing there that Ruth take hummus, give it to Boaz.
So...and it was also a pita bread mentioned there. So it was there before them. We know that the Bible came before everything. So, even before us, okay. So, if they want to take the credit, who stops them? Who really tell them anything? They start the war and they worried, and they, they having it.
Who...we just...we don't even involved there. I don't think the Israeli really enjoy the stupidity. This is stupidity. They just find some reason to have a fight. What for? Why, why don't they come to be 'my' friends, and eat my hummus, and compare it to them? And then they see, this is a different hummus. This is a different kind of hummus.
"...this is a different hummus "
And my...they might even say later, 'Excuse me, this is not the same. I'm sorry. You haven't stolen it,' because I've changed the whole...I make it good for my clients, for my, for my people. I make it tasteful for the kind of people eating here for years, for 30 years.
I'm here 30 years. Thirty years. What did I stole from them? Working hard? You see, I show you. This is a product. One make it without cold water. One make it with hot water. But this is safe system. So there is nothing to steal.
I can go Google, and just find the product. If they want to have it, enjoy it, I don't care. Bring...not war. I'm for peace. I'm not at war here! Food is the best peace thing, you know. You can't have war when you sell something that comes from you. You can't be a bad person, you know.
And I'm a nurse. You know, I'm a nurse. So, it must be clear.
Do you think that hummus as a food makes people happy?
Yeah. I know, because they make research. I know that there was research a few years ago, that...they took some people who ate hummus, and they were on...under depression. And it helps them to be cheerful, for the long day, for the whole...the long day.
So, they say so. I know I'm happy, and I eat hummus every day. I have to, because if I don't eat it, it's like, I don't taste what I'm selling. It's like, I miss it. I need to know, I need to know if it's...if, if the product is, I like it. If it's good to my tongue, for years, it's the same taste, means that it goes.
Are there any other women doing hummus in Israel?
Well, as far as I know, maybe in the last years, there is one woman. I don't even know what's her name. But she's Arabic. And she's from the north somewhere. I've just heard about her. I don't remember her name, excuse me. I'm nothing...I don't really care, you know.
We used to open everywhere. Like, you know, like mushrooms after the rain, you know. Everywhere, every spot. The one who stays for the longest time means that he sells the product, you know, that you, you can eat. They opened, they close, they opened, they close, they've open, they go, come.
They even opened in front of me. After three years he couldn't...he, he closed it. And when he opened it, you know what he say? 'I'm gonna make Hummus Ashkara to disappear, because I'm the best.' Okay, and he say so, like the Lebanese say, that he invented it. I let everybody say anything they want. I just...I don't care! I mind my own business. This is my territory. I don't care! As long as I do what I like to do, they can say anything they want. With me, that's fine.
Tell me about your family background, and how you came to Israel? Are your family refugees?
My family, it's, it's, it's a mish mash. You know, what is a mish mash? It's, you know...my fam-, my father is Italian. He born in Livorno. He was an accountant. So he went to work in Tunisia. He's Jewish, my father...Italian Jewish. And then he went to Tunisia by Mission to open in fabric or something there.
And then he goes...somebody introduce him to my mum, and she's from Tunisia. And he stays to live there. After that they came here, while my mum was pregnant with me. So I the first product of Israel, you know. It means, like, I'm the first Israeli girl from the family.
They came with three children from Tunisia to Israel. And I'm not telling you the year, so you won't count when I was born. Well it was 1962. So I born this year, and you can now tell how old I am.
And did they have to leave Tunisia? Were they refugees?
They, they forced them to go. They was a very problem. They big problem there. It was...they was very bad to the Jewish there. And they wanted to be in Israel, you know. Israel is the promised land for the Jews, and they wanted to make a life, to live in Israel like all the Jews. Where, where do they live? They live in Israel.
We have only one place. Just one little, tiny place. They want to take it away. Why? What...words so deep inside. That's why I don't involve in, in, politics, because, you know, they say, it's mine, and we say, it's mine, and that, you know, you can't prove these kind of things. We are here!
Where did we came from? All over the places. Where to? To Israel. They have good weddings. They have Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, everything, Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, everywhere! Why here? This is the only place we got, where we go to be on the beach, fine. But it's not good. We can have a cancer, you know. Skin cancer.
So when you were growing up, was hummus part of your family?
No. No, no, no. My fa-,...I haven't even eat hummus before I came here. I didn't...well I knew what it was, but I haven't...because it was not in the Tunisian kitchen. We don't used to eat it. We eat the, the chickpeas boiled with meat, with everything. But not as a mash.
But when I came to Tel Aviv, I was very young. I studied nurse school. And I didn't really like to work as a nurse. It was too painful. I, I needed to be in a cheerful place. I was a little bit depressed. I chose the wrong work moreover, and I'd just came to Tel Aviv. I was young.
And I was trying to find something to do with my life, and something that make me happy. And I started as just a waitress somewhere in Tel Aviv, while I was studying at my school. And I finished school. I graduated and everything, and had my diploma.
When I knew my husband, he was a friend of the owner of the place. And the owner wanted to leave. So I told him, 'Don't worry. We're gonna get married, and we're gonna be together, and we'll make this place the best place in the whole world.' And that's how it started. With love.
So it 'does' make love. It 'does' make a good person, you know. If you think about it, my love just grew here, you know. I just...
Ruth Tavour with Trevor Graham
So hummus and love go together?
Of course. Ah, you want me to tell you the story, about the love story? Mm. There was a story about a football player here in Israel. A true one, true story. He told me that by himself, 'cause we are good friends.
He used to date a contessa, an Italian contessa. He was saying her, 'I love Hummus Ashkara.' So he put her...he just came from...to here, and take a box, take it to Italy, put it all over her body, and then just licked it all over, and loved it! And he say, it was the best one he ever had! And this is the story...love story.
Tell me what makes a good hummus? Is it the ingredients, or is it the maker?
Everything. It's the whole complex. It's the tahini. It's the fresh product. It's the energy. It's the procedure. You have to take care of small, tiny things, like putting gloves. You have to watch it without telling anything. They know what you expect from them, without saying anything.
They already know what is your level as what you expect from them, you know. And you need good employees that works with you, with joy, and fun, and sing. And you don't have to yell at them every second. Give them the space to understand what you need from them. And then everything is fine.
But Arabs talk about Nafas, the maker having spirit?
Is it something for you, like that?
I'm a very spiritual person. I always go to the beach, and yoga, and pray. And my husband is religious. He goes to the synagogue. And, you know, we are a very spiritual family. We close just to clean our soul, so we can come back with new energy, and just come again and work, because you know, it's a routine. And the...my, my luck is that my routine, it's with different people every day. So it's not boring, and it's not making me tired of it. It's always like it's a new day.
Who makes the best hummus? Is it Palestinians or Jews?
Tell you the truth? I think I do. And you know why? The world contest here in Israel. The best hummus of Israel. They have tried hundreds of hummus places, from south to north. Hundreds! And I won the prize. The best hummus of Israel. You can Google it. My name. My place. And you can find it, and you can see me cheering, and happy.
Why do you think hummus has become so popular in Israel?
Because it's healthy. The products inside are better than meat. It means, like, if you don't eat meat, and you eat hummus with chickpeas and brown beans, you don't need more than that. And it's cheap. It's cheap, so everybody can afford eat. With 20 shekels, means like, four dollars. A huge plate with two pita bread, and onions free, and how, how you say, the...
Yeah, and...Radish. Radish, and onion, and fresh meat, onion, cut, and cheerful. They don't need more than that. So you have everything inside. So...
Who are your customers, rich, poor?
All of a kind. I have pilots. I have rich...three days ago, sitting here, ? Sherri Ellison. You know who is Sherri Ellison? One of the richest woman in the world. Not in Israel. Her Ellison family is a known family.
They've built all these hospitals, and, you know, and she was sitting here as a common people. Sitting on my wooden chair, my wooden, simple tables, and enjoying her hummus.
So, it's everybody. The poor...you see the guy here, he find some money in his pocket to buy, and even if he doesn't have...I won't charge him. They know me. I'm a too good. Not too...it's never too...but I'm, I'm kind of known.
Do you get both Jewish and Arabic people coming in?
Of course. They love my food. Mm. I have Arabic people works all over here, the restaurants. They eat only in my place. I know. They say it's the best hummus. 'They' say it's the best hummus, and they have, in the city they live, they say this is the best hummus.
Well, tell them to come from Lebanon to be my, my guest! You know what, bring them. Bring them! They have to know that, that when they try it, they can say anything they want. After they try it. They can't say anything about my food, before they taste it.
First of all, they have to taste it, and then they have to say anything about it. And the credit, they can have it. I don't care. Bring it. I don't mind. I'm not...really.
Do you understand the word irony?
There's this conflict with the Palestinians. You've got Palestinians in your kitchen? ...
But this is, this is Israel. It's mixed. This is...I believe...first, you come to me. I believe, this, Israelis belongs to us, together. Together. This is Jewish 'and' Arabic people. There is no, just for Jewish.
They were...they came from somewhere. They didn't just showed [sic] up and...come on, you know...I don't believe in miracles, that people just showed up and they don't [stutters], belong nowhere. It's like, we show we are here, they are here. But we must live like it was before, 20 years ago.
Twenty years ago, the doors were open. I remember, when I was young, I think I'm talking about 40 years ago, I was 10 years old, I remember we were...I was born in, in Israel, but I was living in, in Kfar Saba. It's in, in middle of, of Israel, in the s-, easter [sic]...a little bit east.
I remember as a child, having friends, Arabic, coming from Jaljulya, from Qalqilya, from Taybeh. When I was in nurse school, all my friends almost was Arabic from Taybeh. So I speak Arabic as well. We study at school, Arabic. So what does this mean? We, we deny them?
If we accept them as a language, means that we live together! We study at school, French, Arabic, English and Hebrew. See? So everything is fine.
I guess my question is about your ..
I know, I understand your questions. I did understand your question.
How come that they work for me?
No, no, no...
Like, like they are Palestinian, and they work for Jewish, for making hummus. That's the irony in it. Really. They know. They just come to earn their money. They have no jobs. They want territory. But they don't supply them work places. What for? You want a country for what? Having what?
You have no water in a, in a pot. Nothing. What? No electricity, no work, and what? You expect to not have peace? Where you gonna put all these people? Eating what? Dirt? What, what are they gonna eat? Hummus all the day? Okay. And then what? They have to bring food, everything! This is unbelievable.
That was part of my question. But the other part is about your customers are happy from the labour of the Palestinians?
No problem. No problem. From, from all of the time, I always had, always had Palestinians working. I used to have even from Gaza. But now that there is no peace between us, they can't come over. I had from from Jericho, from Gaza.But now they, they are, they're still calling me, as a family. I saw them, marriage. I be-,...I go there. They come here, freely. Now there is no peace. I can't see them any more. They can't see me anymore. So, I don't see them anymore. It, it hurt me, because they grow up with me. You see what I mean? I saw the children. I saw them, weddings.
Do you think there'll be a day where Palestinians, and Jews, and Arabs, can sit down together ?
Insha'Allah. I can tell you now, we could Insha'Allah. It means, Amen, you know. I wish. That's my wish, 'cause I love them, really. I have no bad thoughts about them at all. Really. I love them as perfect...they're good people. They're just like me, because I was...my, my roots are from Tunisia. It's, it's oriental, you know.
My mum sits and eats with Tunisian people, and, and eat with them in the same...go with them to the same school and everything. So it mu-,...there must be a way. There must be a way, way of peace of talking. And I, I'm telling you, I'm not politician, but the way of talking, the problem is that the attitude of the Arabics, they do acting. They don't think before they act. Really.
It's not that they are stupid. This is the way. They have temper. They have temper. That's why they're slow behind us. In 63 years, look at what we built. They could have the same! But no. They want it by force, by power. But what for? What for? This is my belief, as a person, as a small, tiny person from, from Israel.
You know what our film is called, don't you?
Yes. You want me to say it? Hummus makes love, not war. No?
'Make Hummus Not War'.
Yeah. 'Make Hummus Not War'. Yeah, of course! I want them to make hummus with me one day. We can open the same restaurant together. Why not? Why not? With pleasure. It would be my pleasure. All expenses on me. They can come be my, my, my guests in my house.
Bring them, these Lebanese that wants my name. Tell them to come, with pleasure.