In this blog Tom Hunt describes his trip to Palestine last year with the British Consulate. During the trip he met Bassema Barahmeh, a Fairtrade olive oil producer and an artisan maftoul maker who supplies Zaytoun. Now Bassema is due to visit the UK for Fairtrade Fortnight and Tom is hosting a supper at his restaurant in Bristol to celebrate her visit. Details of the supper can be found at the bottom of the blog.
Hummus on the high street
By Tom Hunt
It wasn’t until I visited Palestine that I fully appreciated how much Arabic food has influenced my own cuisine. Arabic food is ubiquitous in UK food culture and can be found everywhere from late night kebab shops to Ottolenghi’s deservedly successful restaurants. Hummus is on the high street, shakshuka dons many a brunch menu and za’atar is a common household ingredient.
In the 90’s Britain’s food culture began to transform. The bland food of Britain once our handicap became our strength. Our lack of food culture, openness and multiculturalism allowed us to embrace other food cultures but without the rules, diversifying our restaurant scene creating fusion restaurants and a food scene that today competes with the best cities in the world. Britain’s cities are multicultural and now has diverse and thriving food from around the world much of which is Arabic.
My first chef and mentor Ben Hodges was well versed in Arabic food. His mother lived in the South of Spain where the influence of the Moorish peoples (of North West Africa and Arabic origin) was still apparent and a beloved part of their food culture. During the same period of time Ben’s brother Jake Hodges was helping Sam and Samantha Clark open Moro a Moorish restaurant on Exmouth Market that became and still is one of my favourite restaurants and an institution among chefs and patrons.
Although this was my first visit to the Middle East it’s for these reasons that my time in Palestine felt so comfortable and familiar. Sitting down to my first meal, a meze of baba ghanoush, chopped salad, hummus, flat bread and za’atar was like being welcomed home. Especially combined with the hospitality of our host Fadi Kattan who owns the boutique hotel, Hosh Al Syrian, in Bethlehem. Fadi exudes a warmth that would soften even the most inexperienced traveller.
Staying in Palestine allowed me to discover new and ancient cooking techniques like fukhara, a stew cooked in a clay pot and ingredients like freekeh; smoked green wheat; za’atar - a green herb similar to oregano; and maftoul - a hand rolled Palestinian couscous made with wholewheat.
On our trip I was lucky to visit Bassema Barahmeh, a member of the Palestine Fair Trade Association, who taught me how to roll Maftoul in a village near Jenin. 800g of maftoul takes one hour to roll, before steaming then sun drying it over several days before packing. It has a tremendously full and satisfying flavour due to the indigenous varieties of wheat grown in the region and slow methods of production. Other ingredients I cooked with and loved were the Medjoul from Jericho, grown in cultivated forests along the Jordan Valley and salt processed straight from the dead sea.
To book a place at Tom's Fairtrade supper, please pop over to his website at www.pocotapasbar.com.