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Uri Levy

Hummus Talpiot, Jerusalem

Uri Levy

Uri Levy is the co-owner of a family owned restaurant, Hummus Talpiot, in the industrial suburb of the same name, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Uri's father's family were originally from Iraq and his mother's from Spain. Uri is a hummus maker by day and a popular Jerusalem DJ by night. Hummus Talpiot is almost entirely staffed by Palestinians, particularly in the kitchen.

the Interview

Hummus Talpiot, Jerusalem, September 2011

Where does hummus come from? Is it Lebanese? Is it Israeli?

Food is food. It's global, I think. And food is, it's the base of, of the family, of the gathering. Families and groups. And when you see a good food, you take it from everyone.

And I, I think that it's Arabic in the...from the source. But Arabic and Israelis are...I think they're, they're the same. We, we, we call them our cousins, in the good things of it, not on the bad one. They're our cousins. We are, we are the same. We living in the same area.

We eating the same things. We like za'atar. We like the same things. We are, we are the same. All the political problem about...they have no connection to the food. The food is the basic. Falafel, hummus, it's, it's basic. And we love it, and we, we, we made it together.

They say that they are, they are invaded, and, and they...and, and we say that this is our food. But it's actually the same. And I think that the foods connect, connect the Arabic, and the Israelis, and Jews together, from the food. We eat the same food. That's all.

What do you say to the Lebanese who say, 'They stole our land, they stole our food, they stole our culture, and they're stealing our hummus'?

Let's, let's divide it. Land, it's, it's one thing, food is one thing. I don't think that we stole their food or we stole the land. It's, it's opinion. But we have to live together, and we, we will live together if they want, and if they don't want...in the end, there is no border.

The old, the old word was border, you know. This is mine, and this is mine, and right now you see all Europe is one, is one. The border has not...they not have meaning right now. The land...the meaning of the land, it's going down. And right now, everyone is global, and all the, all the planet, it's, it's global.

So the land, in a few years, nobody said, 'this is...'...'you, you took my land, I took your land', okay. And the food is what connect people, and I think so...I think that...I don't know if it's the Lebanon in the hummus, or the Egyptian, or the Jews.

I really don't know, and, and I don't care. We eat it, and we love it, and this is what connect all the, all the people together, because we eat...we go to the Arab...to their homes, and eat their bread, and eat their hummus, and eat the same things that we eat, we eat at home. And it, it's connecting people. And that's all.

Can the origins of hummus be Israeli, going way back in time?

You see, if you go to the history of Israel and, and the Jews, all the land were our[s] land . Okay, it's the egg or the, or the chicken. You don't have a solution to this, to, to this question, okay, because our father, father say that all the land was ours, and there-therefore, from the beginning they took f-, took, took the land from us.

So the hummus was our...the first, okay. And if you ask the Lebanese, they say what you said. 'You took our land, you took our hummus'. So we don't have a total answer to this, to this question. It's the same from...for...like the egg and the chicken.

That's all. But you see the fact. We all eat it. We have the same food, you know. All the food of the Arabic and the, the Jews are mainly the same in the militaria. And, that's all.

Do you know about hummus being mentioned in the Bible at all?

No, I don't know. I don't know.

Give me an idea of how popular hummus is, in Israel today and why?

You can't have no, no meal without hummus. In the big events, in the wedding, in the, the, in the expensive wedding that people do all over this country, hummus on the table is the first thing. You put hummus on the table. You have something to take. If you don't have hummus on the table, you don't have a meal. It's like the bread, like the pita. If you don't have pita, you don't have hummus, there's no meal. It's a European meal, okay. But it's not our meal.

And you see side by side, hummus, and salmon, and fillet steaks, and things like that. But hummus is the main. You have to take the you have to take the meat with hummus...and some hot stuff inside.

You can't eat hummus without that hot...you can't eat, eat hummus without pita. I-It, it's, it's a connection. It's, it's more like a ceremony. You take from here, you take from here, you take from here, you take from here.

You see, the Arab, when they eat, they take a big senia. They called senia. It's a big plate. They put all the food on the plate, and everybody takes from the plate. That mean, who eat together, that mean, we are a group. That mean, 'I'm connected to the people'...like Facebook.

We have a lot of friends. Okay. I have a lot of friends. I'm worth something. This the culture of the Jews, and also the Arab. They eat together. When you eat with someone, it's like alliance. When they eat together, they are group. If you don't eat together, they are fighting. That's all.

And Arabs and Jews all over the world eat together, because they have the same food. And when they eat together, everybody smile. There's no problem. There's no borders. There no Jews Israeli. I know, all over the world, they see the conflict. I don't think that the conflict that you see on the, on the news is the conflict that you see here.

We live together. We work together. We speak the same languages. And that's all. The problem, they've been...individual don't have problem. The authorities have problem.

hummus dish

Who is it that works in your kitchen?

All Arabs. We work together...5 o'clock in the morning, we come together to work. We start, we start making food.

Is that because they make the best hummus?

Of course. Of course.

Do you understand irony?

What you say?


Your largely, I imagine, Jewish customers, Israeli customers, and the people that are making them happy are Palestinians?

Palestinians make Israelis happy?

In the kitchen.

It's a trade. It's a trade. We we pay them four times the payment they get in the, in the Palestinians pay the Palestinians...we pay them four times more. They're happy with us.

They're happy with us. Their home good. They're...I, I don't think that we are the bosses and they are the worker. I, I don't see like that. It's a trade.

Who is it that comes to your restaurant? What sort of restaurant is it then?

It's a worker restaurant. People who work hard every day, come here to, to eat. You come to eat. You come to, to fill your belly. But you don't come here to, to enjoy yourself. You have half an hour, you come, you eat good, you go to your work.

These are the customers. Arabs, Jews, American, lawyers, workers...everyone eat here, because the hummus has not...it's not...you don't have categories to, to hummus, okay. Everyone, when they come here, they are the same.

You, you can be a lawyer. You can be a worker. You can be a, a city worker that work in a garage, or work in, in construction. You come here, you are the same. You get the same treatment from us. You get the same food.

You don't have classes here. This is the, the things that connect people, because you're going to sit...someone going to sit beside you. 'Hi', and he's going to sit beside you and eat with you, and he doesn't know you. But when you eat together, you all connect.

Can you talk about where your family comes from, and how important hummus was, within your family?

My family from...the side of my father come from Iraq, okay. We were other...on...we were the, the minority in Iraq, okay. And then we live there, and remain our culture and our religions in a country that hostile on us.

So we know from our...from deep inside, we know how some, some minority feels, okay. And then we came from all over the country, all over the world. And then, well then, we came to Israel. We don't have a country 'til...before, the country was...

...established, okay. So we know. We, we lived as the, the Iraqian. And they...we, we made 'their' food, and al-, and also 'our' food. But it's from the age of time. It's from the Bible...[talks in Hebrew]...from the Bible time, yeah. We live in Iraq...my, my grandfather.

From the side of my mother, they come from Spain, okay. And then, we...they do, they do...

They kicked out from Spain, and they took all their money, and they go...and tell them, 'Go, because we don't you any more, here'. So they came to, to, to Israel without no [sic] money. They, they have a lot...they had a lot of money in Spain.

A lot of buildings...'til today, you go to Spain, and you see a lot of building that were s-, were the owner of the Jews. So they leave everything there, and they came here without nothing . Also from Iraq. They come here without nothing, and they build themselves 50 years ago from z-, ground zero.Nobody w-, nobody wants to live here before we came, okay.

hummus dish

So how important was hummus when you were growing up, in your family?

It's like the view around you. It's, it's always...it always 'was' there.

When you were growing up, a little boy, you were eating hummus?

Of course. Of course. From the age of, from the age of one, I eat hummus. You made it at home. You made it with, with a lot of things. It's not only just hummus as a salad, okay. You made it in the...I don't know if you know the Hummus with, with everything.

Tell me about your business. How much hummus do you make each day?

Eighty litres. It's a lot. It's a lot. But it's fresh, day by day. It's fresh every day. And, and it's, and if you, if you save it 'til tomorrow, no good. You made it today, we eat it today. That's all.

So your families were refugees from Iraq?

Yes. And refugees from Spain, also. They got divorced from Iraq. They kicked their ass and tell them, 'Go! Right now you have 24 hours to leave the country, or we'll, we'll, we'll kill you'. And then they left everything that they had. Home, property, everything. They come, just the place. And they come and build this country from, from zero. And you have to remember that the country was ours in the age of the Bible, when we go from Egypt to Israel. And then come all the, all the...The Romans come here to Israel, and, and lots of times. We, we've been here all the time.

Maybe the Romans came for the hummus?

The Romans came to kill us, and to kick us from this country. I don't know what they find here. There, there's nothing in Israel. There's no jewellery. There's no gold. There's no iron. There's nothing in this land. There's no rain. No water. Nothing. And they want this country?

It's the poorest, the poorest country around. They, they, they have a lot, a lot of oil around us. But in Talpiot or in Israel, no oil. We don't hold treasure. We don't have treasure over this land. Nothing. Hummus! And za'atar. This is the treasure. And they came here, they was with nothing, and, and we came and make everything green. Some people say that we kick the Palestinians out. But they're living beside us.

And I remember, 20 years ago, we lived together like that, when we go to the, we go to Jericho, and then, then we go to Bethlehem. We go to Bethlehem, trade, and it was all right. But I don't know right now. The political problem is not our problem. We live here. We just want to live. That's all. The, the, the Palestinians and us, if you'd ask the, the people on the street, they want the same thing.

How has the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians affected you personally?

Affect all Israel, because we also...we have a lot of problem with bombs and things like that. And the work has gone slow. People don't go out. The economy, it's affecting...affect economy. And it's a problem here, so...

I think that the, the Jews, and also the Palestinian, pay a big price for living here, because we are the Jews. We have had to, to, to give three, three years of our life to the country, to remain the order and remain the security in the area, okay. Three...no money.

Age of 18, you know, when you have to make your money, and you are young, 18 to 21, you have to be in the army. And then you have the and one month a year. And you're also on exercise, and also a lot...you can, you can sleep here. All, all the, all the Jew[s] are...all-all the time, a lot, and women to, to go and serve the country. This is one.

The, the next things, economy, our economy is all the time, hurt from what's happening in the world. No tourist, no people go to the street. They afraid from bombs, and they afraid of things like that.

And also the Palestinians are suffering from all this situation, because when there is big wind, the bombs, and they're, they're like, in your area, they can't earn money, they can't go out.

The common people on the street suffer. The Jews and the Palestinians also. It's the same, okay. And, and this situation is not good for us, not good for them. What the world see, that we are the big country, and we are the power, that is not like that.

The Palestinians running us...as well, we running them. Do you understand? Their operations running us, and affect our economy, affect our people, affect our state our mind, affect everything, you know. You live in fear in Israel. You don't know what going to be tomorrow.

You have a business. So what? Tomorrow you, you don't have a business. The Palestinians have the work. Tomorrow, they don't have work. Most of us said, the situation are not good for the --for boat, for boat. But what you see in the world, that we are Israel and we are strong, it's not like that.

You don't understand that we are, around us there are big, big countries ten times than us, and ten times more than us, and we, we do what we do from, from fear. We have to remain order here, to, to defend ourself. That's all.

What makes good hummus? Is it the person who makes it, or is it the ingredients?

t's everything. It's atmosphere. Of course, the beans, you have to buy good beans, that...the beans that grow, you know...these come from Turkey, from, from, from Iran. The beans come ov-, from all over the world. The quality of the bean, of the, the beans, the quality of the tahina, and the people that make it, you have to make it with love.

All food in the world made from love.

Must understand that the, the mother in Israel, and also the Palestinians, the mother controlling the home with the food. You go all the wor-, all the day, you have lots of problem, you come to...you come home, and then everybody sits. And the food is the main thing that connect everyone.

So the mothers are a lot of power.

The Israelis' mother also, and Palestinians' mother. They are the one that...with...maintain that, that gathering in the family, and things like that. And they judge your family from the food of your mother [laughs]. If your mother make good food, then her family is good.

And same thing, all of, all...in the Palestinians or the Jews. The same thing.

In the home, are you judged on how the hummus is too?

The hummus is the...you must understand, hummus, it's like bread. It's only time will be there, and it stay there 'til the end of time. You don't have to-, table without hummus, you know. You...because it's there all the time, you don't notice it. But it's...when you take it, you notice that it's missing. But you have to be there all the time. Hummus and tahina all the time. And Shabbat, dinner, a-an, an event, and every day food, all the time, is there, the food. The hummus is there all the time. In pita, in...with falafel, all the combination that you want.

Uri Levy

Do you have a secret recipe?

We call it secret, yeah. You can call it secret. But it's, it's...The process of making it, the process that we are doing, that's what making the texture of the hummus, and the taste of it. The process. It's, it's stages, you know. Stage one, stage two, stage three, stage four, and then you make it.

Last time we talked, I asked you about why the Ashkenazi Jews like hummus, and you talked about the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardic food? And you said something like Ashkenazis know nothing about food?

I don't think that is two sort of Jews. But in Israel there is Jews...The eastern Jews...There is two kind of Israelis. The eastern Israelis that came from Iraq, and came from Syria, and came...they lived there long time ago, and they lived there, Ashkenaz one, one that lives on Europe. And the eastern one came with the hummus, and all the big food, and with the kubbeh, and things like that. And European one that we call Ashkenaz, came with the food, with no, with no lots of pepper and things like that, yeah. We, we call it...

The, the Middle East, the, the Jews from the Middle East came with the food. Rice, and hummus, and lots of za'atar, lots of garlic, lots of oily...oil, and a lot of pepper and things like that. Spicy and hot. And the, the, the Jews that live in Europe, came with the food of the Europes. It's that, you know, kind of...not strong like, like our food. So they, they liked it in our home because our food is more rich with...Was spicy, and things like that. The Ashkenaz come to eat in our home, they learn our food, and they eat our food in the home.

Is hummus good for you?

Of course.

You can see the last research about food all over the world, that say that hummus, it's very healthy. We, we know that from the age of time, we eat hummus. So right now, in the last research, that mean that hummus is very, very healthy. Very healthy. So it's the basic of our food today.

Do you think it's good for your sex life?

I don't know. But they say, they say so.

They say so. Maybe they will, they will make research about it.

So it's particularly good for men, and their sex life?

Of course. All beans is good for men. Food, food make, make you happy. Food make you happy. A good food make you happy. But, but when...you don't eat f-, you don't eat food with...you know, like this. When, when you eat food...

Is wiping the plate like that, important?

Wiping. Wiping the plate, of course, it's important. You, you don't go...you don't say, 'I'm going to eat hummus'. You're going to wipe hummus. This...with your hand. You can...you have to feel the bread. You have to feel the pita. You have to feel the hummus. And the, the oil have to go on your, your fingers, and thing like that [laughs]. And, and a little bit of hot, you know. I-It's, it's sort of ceremony. You take from here, you take from here, you take from here. You feel that you have lots of thing. You feel good. You have control of the table.

And, you know, hand...you take your hand from this one, and this one, and from this plate, and this plate. It's a party. It's a party.

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