In a Farro-induced trance the other day I stumbled upon Palestinian couscous. Hold on, I thought – is this just Israeli couscous with a side of branding? Well, this pack was a Trade Aid product, made by Palestinian women in Jericho. And technically speaking, it looked distinct from what I’ve seen sold as “Israeli couscous”: this one was a bit browner (whole wheat), and kind of less perfectly spherical, if you like. The Arabic word for it is apparently maftoul. Anyway, I bought it and made a fantastic salad out of it with a herb-evoo paste, spring onions, pine nuts and delicious Whangaripo buffalo fresca. When couscous was all the rage – say, late 90s early 00s I ‘spose – we knew only of the Moroccan sort: small, white, light and fluffy if cooked well; a gluggy mess if not. These days you can take your pick – Moroccan, Israeli, Palestinian, and another ‘giant’ version I’ve bought from the Lebanese deli down the road, labelled moghrabieh.
The point of this story, I suppose, is that I love how we’re starting to dig so much deeper into different cuisines; turning up regional variations from all sorts of cuisines. Down the road from me in the Balmoral shops, you can eat your way round China – from Hong Kong to Henan with plenty of Beijng noodles in between. It’s also the idea that cultures and religions at loggerheads often share such achingly similar culinary traditions. A few weeks ago I interviewed Yotam Ottolenghi about his and Sami Tamimi’s new cookbook, the excellent Jerusalem. He said food is the only thing that brings Jews and Muslims together in his hometown, the holy city; people might sit side by side to enjoy a meal in an eatery (and, my goodness, what amazing eateries they must have in that city). But, he lamented, even that is happening less and less. “It really is sad”, he said, and I agreed. It really is sad.