Happiness by definition is a tough one. I definitely don’t have a key for it. The dictionary tells me that happiness is a mental or emotional state of well-being defined by positive or pleasant emotions. In real life I find it rather hard to put a clear-cut definition to it, but I can point with the finger on it. The same holds for food. When you eat good food, you may not be able to craft a definition of why it is good, but you can put your finger on it and say it’s bloody good.
Surely, it is utterly and completely subjective. Be it your favourite dish made by your grandma or a special dish that reminds you of home. Happiness in food lies elsewhere for each individual. If I tell that I grew up in Germany, you might have an immediate association of what that might be. However, although I was surrounded by meats and breads for the most part of my life, the origin of my culinary happiness comes from the Levant and brews in the Kenyan mountains.
“Having German blood running through my veins, you can’t blame me that I tried to follow the recipe precisely… ‘so screw the recipes and all its precision’, she said – I was all in favour.”
Screw the Recipes
My story of happiness is a story of hummus. It could be a story from thousand and one night (and I wish it was), but it begins in the country of fog and rain. Many years ago when I was in England, I lived with an Israeli girl that let me in on her hummus magic. Previously trying to follow recipes in order to get it right, her very first lesson in making hummus was – screw the recipes.
“What do you mean, screw the recipes?” She explained to me that no one ever made good hummus following a recipe. “You have to feel and taste it.” I knew the ingredients and the procedure, but I apparently didn’t feel it. Having German blood running through my veins, you can’t blame me that I tried to follow the recipe precisely. It also explains the lack in connecting emotionally with my food. Like with many traditional foods, there isn’t just one hummus. Probably every family in the Middle East has its very own version – so had also my Israeli friend – and that would be the best there is. So screw the recipes and all its precision – I was all in favour.
Several years have gone by, but I still regularly make hummus. Since that day my Israeli friend taught me how to make it properly – to feel it – I haven’t used a recipe again. Perhaps my hummus isn’t the same every time I make it, but the pleasure has remained the same. My friend always there in memory, telling me not to be so ‘German’ about it. It starts with soaking the chickpeas over night, continues when I boil them the day after and lasts as I blend it together with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and garlic.
The thing that actually makes me happy isn’t the hummus itself, but it’s the memory of my friend and her showing me what is really important – when it comes to hummus. It is ‘I’ – not always the same, but happy in the process.
Ask who you want, happiness often relates back to food that is shared. What a coincidence that hummus is the ultimate dish to share – well, at least in the Middle East. When it comes to happiness, you can point it out, but can’t really catch it. Enjoy it while you can or it’s gone.
Explore the Levant for yourself. Share the taste of happiness with some Middle Eastern dishes. Get your inspiration here: The Levant by Chef Slim Mohammed, Arabian Nights by Chef Shalu Asani or My Istanbul by Chef Samia Ahad.