Thursday, 7 October 2010

National Poetry Day | Music | The hummus bandwagon

As James asserted at the beginning of the week, and now even more self-evidently the case what with the ubiquitousness of Super Ted in today’s broadsheets (thanks to the New Statesman’s scoop), on National Poetry Day there really is nothing for a literary website to do except write about hummus.

I bloody love hummus. All of it, even the shitty reduced fat stuff that replaces olive oil with water, and especially when new flavours are thought out fully and deliciously (unlike Tesco’s jalapeno variety, which can fuck right off). And while I’ll happily admit that my love of hummus is often an issue of rather heretical practicality – if you have two pounds and twelve minutes and won’t have another opportunity to eat for six hours, a pot of hummus spread across three or four pitas is a solution like no other, however problematic the supermarkets' sludge – I am a hummus romanticiser also. There’s just something aboutit. Something inherent in its unique ooze, somehow cleansing and refreshing as well as cakily satisfying. Something about the elbow-pain penance that comes from manually squeezing one’s own chickpeas into next week.
Fortunately, others agree. Other others don’t at all, mind: I once polished off one of the Co-op’s smaller pots, dribbled with pesto, in about seven minutes, and it made an observer literally sick. ‘It’s like eating an entire block of butter,’ he gurgled like a prick. ‘Look, I’m not the one being sick,’ I responded casually; ‘indeed, clearly you are the one whose body is telling you to stop doing what you're doing. Telling you to stop not eatingentire pots of hummus in one sitting.’

The nice people over at the brilliantly one-track-minded Hummus Blog certainly agree. If you’re not already familiar with this also-comes-in-Hebrew treasure trove, here’s three reasons why it’s great.

1, The politics of food (hummus) intelligently addressed: such as here, setting the record straight about the supposed Israel vs. Lebanon/Israelis vs. Arabs HUMMUS WAR, which resulted in the following hilarious commentary from a supposedly respectable Arab daily, the Asharq Alawsat:

Israel always succeeds in dragging us away from core issues to be preoccupied by marginal ones, such as the hummus war that is currently raging between Lebanese chefs and the Israeli intelligence’s psychological warfare department… I doubt that Israeli chefs are responsible for their rivalry… As Arabs, why are we concerned with competing withIsrael on issues such as hummus whilst ignoring competition in the fields of industry, scientific research, educational and military excellence?

2, Reviews which centre on, for example, little other than the impossibility of finding hummus made with tahini in Berlin:

Add to that the fact that Berlin has a large population of immigrants from the middle-east – Israelis, Lebanese, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, Jordanian, Iranians and mainly Turkish – and you’d understand how come they know what shawarma, falafel and pita are. And yes, they also ate hummus – but the chances are it did not have Tahini in it. At first, I was surprised and somewhat amused by the fact that most local restaurants that serve hummus are using sesame oil instead of tahini. The third time it happened, I was less amused and started feeling desperate.

3, Simultaneously whimsical and serious hummus research getting done: here’s a diagram…
…and here’s their reading of it:

Strong growth can be seen in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. This could be explained by the growing numbers of immigrants from the Middle East to these rich Scandinavian countries. The immigrants must long for their beloved dish – or maybe it’s the locals who seek for the warm dish of hummus in the long wintry nights?

The Hummus Blog also features recipes, which I’ll leave you discover for yourselves. Recipes which adapt without undermining the fundamental centrality of hummus which is, after all, why they’re here, why we’re all here. And this fact offers the perfect entry-point into what I wish to talk about tonight, what I call the abuse of the hummus bandwagonFor GOOD hummus is riding a bandwagon, certainly, but it’s a bandwagon that is all its own work: it is a product of hummus’ deliciousness, simplicity and convenience and that is that. And the EVIL supermarkets are clinging onto it for dear life and profiting, it’s not the other goddam way around.
Which is why it really fucks me off that said supermarkets are fucking with the purity of the hummus section of their stores in their dribbly desire to get hummus alternatives surfing the same hummusy wave, hummus alternatives that haven’t any right to be there. One wanders into Tesco and what does one see: FUCKING FRIJOLEMOLE, made with fucking BEANS and far too fucking mayonnaisey to eat a whole pot in one go. Walk into M&S and it’s worse: PEA AND WASABI DIP! NEXT TO THE HUMMUS! Not next to the guacamole WHICH WOULD CLEARLY MAKE MORE SENSE. They’re both green, for goodness’ sake.

Why? Because there’s no guacamole bandwagon, is there? Friends, that ship has already sailed.

Here’s the crux of the problem: at the heart of what hummus is about, be your perspective culinarily or philosophically or lifestyle-focussed, is simplicity. We’re talking a mere five ingredients plus a couple goodies, that. is. it. We’re talking almost absurdly simple recipes. We’re talking purity. Hummus is purity.

This is something that, to make this about music for the shortest of whiles, Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam understood and respected. Consider the lyrics to their two and a half minute composition, ‘Hummus’, the secret track on 1998’s Yield:

Guitar line…
Guitar line plus percussion inc. sleigh bells…
Guitar line plus percussion speeding up slightly…
Tremolo picking…
Tremolo picking…
Tremolo picking…

You’ll notice, I hope, that the words ‘frijolemole’ and ‘pea and wasabi dip’ don’t make the cut. Their peculiar cadence would DESTROY THE GROOVE, if you know what I mean.

Morcheeba took this truism even further with the splendidly titled ‘Post Houmous’ from their 1996 debut, Who Can You Trust? removing all traces of the vocal elements that define numerous other tracks on the record in their quest for purity. Rather like the hummus-maker who considers elaborate spicing a kind of cheating.

Whoever’s responsible for this therefore CLEARLY missed the point (although it’s actually pretty rad, but don’t tell anybody cos that's ruin everything). I bet it was Sir Stuart Rose. He’s always struck me as a Busta Rhymes fan. Look at him. P.I.M.P.

Sam Kinchin-Smith,
Music Editor

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