Monday, 18 January 2010

Falafel Road

******* 20 FALAFEL MEALS OPEN TO JOIN ********
Falafel Road Residency with the Live Arts Development Agency> and Artsadmin
The meals are screened daily at the café in Iniva until the 13th of March

This seemingly silly question, is a precursor to an investigation into
the intentional and systematic hijacking and eradication of Palestinian cultural history, by the state of Israel.

To find out more about the residency and The Novel of Nonel and Vovel (Charta 2009) please go to

We created chapter 6 Orientalism for The Novel of Nonel and Vovel in London, Edgware Road, trying to work out how our relationships and the politics of the region pan across the spectrum of falafel.

Larissa's video Soup Over Bethlehem, and Oreet's video Why Do You Think I left? both feature immediate family members, can also be seen as precursors to this residency.

A still from Gordon Matta-Clark's Food

A big influence on this residency too is the restaurant project and film
Gordon Matta-Clark
1972, 43 min, b&w, sound, 16 mm film on video
This film documents the legendary SoHo restaurant and artists' cooperative Food, which opened in 1971. Owned and operated by Caroline Goodden, Food was designed and built largely by Matta-Clark, who also organized art events and performances there. As a social space, meeting ground and ongoing art project for the emergent downtown artists' community, Food was a landmark that still resonates in the history and mythology of SoHo in the 1970s.
Camera and Sound: Robert Frank, Suzanne Harris, Gordon Matta-Clark, Danny Seymour. Editing: Roger Welch

We went to map the Falafel Road on a snowy day, it was strange to investigate potential falafel locations in the snow, as it has associations with sunny weather. Mapping the locations was based on a number of factors: different types of eateries; cafes, restaurants, market stalls, health food shops - cheap and expensive, also we tried to spread outside the West and East End, we also tried to find Palestinian, Israeli/Jewish, Lebanese, Iraqi, Turkish, and other possible originators of the falafel.

Apart from the usual 20 meals we have 4 larger meals/events:

1. Food! Glorious Food! 13 February 2010. Iniva, Rivington place. 16:00-18:00.

2. Politics: Here and Away, 23 February 2010, Serpentine Edgware Road

3. Falafel Road at Thursdays@ Artsadmin, 25 February 2010. At the end of the residency Ashery and Sansour share the project in the form of an open studio event at the Arts Bar and Café, Toynbee Studios, where they will show footage from the residency 18:00-22:00

4. A falafel meal at the house of Margareta and Marcus in Hackney. 10th of February, at 19.30. Rayna Nadeem and Stuart Shahid Bamforth will present 'Life In Gaza' , A participatory film with young people in Gaza. (length-10 mins)
Meal now fully booked.

“What distinguishes the case of falafel from those of rice and wine is our access to its historical origins. Falafel was not assimilated into Israeli society by a long, slow, natural process. Rather, its transformation into an icon of Israeli culture was rushed and deliberate. In its urgent search for symbols of unity, the nationalist movement hit upon falafel as a signifier of Israeli pride.”

Quote from: Falafel, A National Icon, Yael Raviv, Caliber, Journal of The University of California Press, published in Gastromonica, Summer 2003, Vol. 3, No. 3, Pages 20–25



1 February 2010, Mr Falafel

Palestinian Eaterie
Units T4 - T5
New Shepherd's Bush Market
Uxbridge Road
W12 8LH



Our first meal we had the artists Olivia Plender and Petra Bauer; Petra is from Sweden and is engaged with projects in Palestine. She talked about Sweden changing relationships to the region, starting from the left affinity with Israel socialist ideas and the creation of the Kibbutz, to a growing support for the Palestinian cause.
Ahmad Yassine (PhD in chemical engineering - now after the second meal we know how this fact came about, read meal 6), the owner, talked to us a great deal about the colonial notions of the falafel and compared it with the Curry in England. When we asked him if Israel stole the falafel from the Palestinians, he said that he would not use the word 'stole', but maybe 'adopted'. Ahmed spoke about 1948 and his family's village, that is no longer there, apart from a well. He spoke about the history and eradication of Palestinian culture, he mentioned various literary sources, like a relative of his, the famous Palestinian cartoonist Naji Ali. He is famous for his character, Handalah, the little guy that you see in a lot of his drawings with his back to us.

He also mentioned Qalandia airport, and the filmmaker Nahed Awad who made a short film about it, using a lot of archival footage. Ahmad also mentioned the railway, as an example of Palestinian infra-structure, The railway was built in 1892 in Ottoman Palestine by a French company. It is the oldest railway in the Middle East. It is important to also note that generally speaking, when Israeli tourist books mention architecture or anything pertaining to Palestinians, it always refers to the colonizers of them. So, it is either British or Ottoman, therefore Palestinians are insignificant in that equation. Moreover, it makes Israel come across as a liberator of Palestinians from previous colonizers. Larissa and Olivia were talking about finding historical images and other forms of representation that challenge the western notion of 'empty Palestine' , as many are not aware of the cultural vibrancy and urbanization of Palestine prior to 1948. Oreet talked about her education in Israeli schools where there was no mention of Palestinian culture, despite the proximity.
Ahmad was also talking about being the first Palestinian place to advertise itself as such; many Palestinians who work in eateries, or run/ own them, say they are Lebanese. Ahmad was brought up In Lebanon. His dad also works in the shop.

For the first time we try the rotating cheese board from Lewis (£30) with the flip HD video camera, it seems the least obtrusive method of filming sit-down meals.

We are going to Mr Falafel for the next 3 Mondays.

2 February 2010, Artsadmin

Toynbee Studios
28 Commercial Street
E1 6AB



For the duration of the residency we are based in studio 5 at Artsadmin. It is a great big room with wooden floors and it's very cosy. The Artsadmin staff meet every Tuesday for a meal, which we joined this Tuesday. Alex from the cafe made falafels for the occasion, thanks! He is from Italy. We also had Hummus, Guacamole, salad, rice and pitta with it. Each member of staff talked about their activities and what cultural events they are planning to visit in the week ahead. We presented our residency. We were asked not to film the meal or photograph it. We felt very welcomed.

3 February 2010, Hoxton Beach


Market Stall
Pitch 36
Whitecross Street Market



The falafel wrap in Hoxton Beach is fantastic! The falafels are flufy and spicy from chilli!

When we first asked the guy who works in Hoxton Beach where he was from he said:' Lebanon'. When Larissa said she was Palestinian, he said that he was too. This confirmed what Ahmad from Mr Falafel said, and that probably some of the credit that goes to Lebanese food is in fact, Palestinian.
Tali Ceredbaum came to this meal in Whitecross market. Tali used to own and run Tal Esther Gallery in Tel Aviv until recently, before coming to live in London. We asked Tali about her associations with falafel and she spoke about Abu-Hassan in Jaffa, where various men, mainly taxi drivers, gather in the early mornings to eat and burp. Her associations with falafel are with burping men. We all tried to figure out if falafel has gender issues attached to it, and if the fact that it is heavy and messy to eat makes it more of a ‘men’s’ food, but did not arrive at any conclusive opinion. This reminded us of a story that Gary Thomas told us in the Progress Report opening at Iniva, about coming out of a club in Bristol late at night, when someone said: “Lets go have falafel’ and another shouted: ‘Falafel is for poofs’. We guess that this is a comment on falafel being vegetarian, and hence not as ‘manly’ as kebab.
Tali's recollection of Abu Hassan in Jaffa made her miss Jaffa, the view of the sea she had from her window and the sun. When we asked her if Israeli stole the falafel from the Palestinians, she said: ‘yes, for sure, they did’. She also said that Israel indeed has done many bad things to the Palestinians, but that she can only be accounted for what she is able to do.

A view from the sea at Jaffa looking east onto the city, 1898-1914. (Matson Collection)

It was interesting for us to think of Jaffa and the sea since moments before that, whilst we were on our own, Larissa mentioned how seafood has been such a big part of Palestinian cuisine, and how this is absent now, since they have no access to the sea. In the light of the previous conversation we had at Mr. Falafel about the lack of representation and knowledge of Palestinian culture we thought about Jaffa and Heifa as one of the most praised and beautiful towns in Palestine. They were very vibrant culturally and often served as a meeting place of Arab intellectuals from all over as it is so close to Beirut. Um Kutlthum used to come and perform in Jaffa. It had a really close affinity to Beirut and Cairo.

Palestinians from Jaffa attempt to take with them whatever they can as Zionist militias force them to leave the city, May 1948. (Palestine Remembered)

An image of Alhamra, one of the most famous cinemas in Jaffa. This one is from 1937.

More thought about the history of Jaffa:

Jaffa was the most advanced city in Palestine in the development of its commercial, banking, fishing, and agriculture industries. Jaffa had many factories specializing in cigarette making, cement making, tile and roof tile production, iron casting, cotton processing plants, traditional handmade carpets, leather products, wood box industry for Jaffa orange, textile, presses and publications. It should also be noted that the majority of all publications and newspapers in Palestine were published in Jaffa.
Since Israeli still maintains and enforces the "Law Of Absentees", all Jaffa's industries, farms, buses, cars, railroads, cattle, real states, etc. have been looted and became the property of the Jewish State. When such practices were conducted by the Germans and the Swiss, the Jews of the world demanded justice for their looted art works and properties. The question which begs itself :- Are the Palestinian Arabs entitled for compensation for their looted properties too?

Newspapers from Jaffa:

Filisteen : Founded in 1909 by 'Issa Doud al-'Issa and Yousef al-'Issa. Until al-Nakba, it was considered to be one of the largest newspapers in Palestine. After al-Nakba, it resumed publication in Jerusalem, until 1967.
Al-Salam : Founded in 1920 by Naseem Maloul, and its name means Peace.
Al-Jazeerah : Founded in 1924 by Hassan and Mahamoud al-Dajani, and its name means Island.
Sawt Al-Haq : Founded in 1927 by Fihmi al-Husseini, and its name means The Voice of Truth.
Al-Jamia' al-Islamyyah : An Islamic related paper, founded in 1932 by Suliman al-Taji al-Farouki.
Al-Difa' : Founded in 1934 by Ibrahim al-Shanti, and its name means Defense.
Haqiqat al-'Amr : Founded in 1937 by the Histadrut in Tel Aviv.
Al-Jihad : Founded in 1939 by Muhammad al-Maslami.
Al-Sha'b : Founded in 1947 by Hilmi Hanoun and Idmound Rouck, and its name means The People.
Al-Youm : Founded in 1949 by the Histadrut and whose editor was Dr. Abu al-Thu'yb, and its name means Today.
Al-Huryyah : Founded by Heirout part (now the Likud party), and its name means Liberty.
Sada al-Taribyah : Semi monthly newspaper founded in 1952, and its name means The Echo Of Education.
Al-Youm le 'Awladuna : Semi monthly newspaper for kids founded in 1960, and its name means A Day For Our Children.
Al-T'awun : Founded in 1961 by Dar al-Nasher al-'Arabi, and its name means Collaboration.

Magazines from Jaffa:

Al-'Asma'i : Founded in 1909 by Hana 'Abdallah al-'Issa, which was the first magazine to be published in Palestine.
Al-Haqq : Founded in 1923 by Fihmi al-Husseini, and its name means The Truth.
Al-Nashra al-Tijaryyeh : Founded in 1924 by Jaffa's chamber of commerce, and its name means The Commercial Publication.
Al-Tahreer : Founded in either 1935 or 1936 by Iskandar al-Halabi and Muhammad Yousef al-Din al-Irani, and its name means Liberation.

The Picture shows Jaffa's southern slum neighbourhoods before demolition, 1949.

4 February 2010, Abu Ali

Abu Ali

Lebanese Eaterie
130-138 George Street
Nr Edgware Road



It was just us for this meal and Ed ( Hobbs) who is filming and editing the meals' footage. The falafel was the best so far, soft and spicy and just right. We had knāfeh for desert. It is a vibrant orange and made from a very fine fried vermicelli-like pastry, cheese - like mozzarella cheese, rose water and honey. It is sweet, soft and crispy at the same time, addictive and full of cholesterol.

It was the first time we had a chance to sit and talk. The past two and a half years were spent working on the book from afar via hourly emails, followed by a recent intense period of work on the Inferno digital panels and various live events we curated. The notion of how little is taught in schools, and in Israel in general, of Palestinian culture came up again in the conversation. We also talked about language and Larissa commented on how the sound of Hebrew makes her think of gunshots and bombs. As it was just the two of us talking, it became apparent that we can easily fall into the trap of ‘a dialogue’, of what is it like for both sides, something we were always keen to avoid, as it is not an equal situation in reality. Finding a mode of a conversation that usefully represents our position, that of a resistance to the occupation, rather than a 'dialogue based on two perspectives' is the task at hand.

5 February 2010, Just Falafels no longer

Urban English with emphasis on health
155 Wardour Street



small plate, which makes the slowly cooked boiled egg ( the slow cooking makes the egg brown and smoky tasting) looks huge

The NO meal

No Larissa (ill☹)

No Just Falafel shop (turned into a cup cake shop)

No falafels (in the Hummus Bros eatery, in Wardour St, we went to instead)

In this meal, the meeting of the two families meal, it became clear that meeting relatives and friends for a meal and a conversation has its own social and personal etiquette, and that this does not always sit easily with heated political debates. Although interesting conversations did take place, there were undercurrents that all involved could not really unpick, since this would become too contentious for everyone around the table, especially with the camera recording. It means that a polite conversation between Oreet’s family and Larissa’s family could not really dig deep into the more difficult parts of the topics raised. As in the meal in Abu Ali, with Larissa and Oreet alone, it is what was not said, or what can not be said, or what was not recorded that is more interesting. This dynamic is proving problematic in situations where there are Israelis and Palestinians at the table, be it Oreet and Larissa, or invited guests. To the question of how much Palestinian culture was taught in Israeli Schools, Shoshi (Oreet’s sister) answered, none. Maxim
(Larissa’s brother) added that in his school, all the books were monitored and censored by the Israeli government, so in Palestinian schools too, at the time of his childhood (Maxim is 33), Palestinian culture was obliterated from the curriculum. We also talked about possible changes in Israeli society towards a future that does not look too hopeful (Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu). Maxim said that although he is not optimistic, in the long run he could see a two state solution.

At the end of the meal Oreet and Maxim had a bet (three ice cream scoops) as to whether Hummus Brother was owned, or manned by Israelis. No Israelis worked there that night, but it is owed partly by an Israeli who has been living in London for over 10 years. This brings up the question of the boycott.

8 February 2010, Mr Falafel

Palestinian Tiberias circa 1890, a great holiday resort and source of fish. Now,under Israeli rule, without access to Palestinians

Palestinian Eaterie
Units T4 - T5
New Shepherd's Bush Market
Uxbridge Road
W12 8LH



The second week of the falafel residency started today. We are now mindful of the fact that this project is not as easy as we thought it was going to be. In fact, we are afraid it is going to clash with everything that we set out to do in the book. We are starting the week with a heavy feeling that we are falling into a trap. Unlike our characters in the book that were relatively pliable as they were our alter egos, and even though our superhero actions were fictional, the whole book was deeply rooted in the Palestinian political reality. Now, that we started working with real people, it seems our conversations are drifting away from reality and turning into a polite exchange of feelings and thoughts. We are determined to change that this week.

We went to our usual Monday spot, Mr Falafel. Ahmad Yassine, the owner of the place was very happy to see us again and prepared a lovely plate of warm falafel, pickles, bread and humous accompanied by mint tea.

Oreet wanted to know more about Palestinian cuisine as people in Israel don’t even know of its existence. Larissa will bring a good Palestine cuisine cooking book the next time we meet. Ahmad was very happy to talk about food and explained that Palestinian food is of course very similar to that of other countries in the Levant region. Most people know Lebanese food, which is very similar to Syrian and Palestinian cuisine. This is mostly because the Lebanese were one of the first from the region to emigrate to South America, Europe and the US, and introduce their food there. One of the dishes he talked about was particularly Palestinian, called Mussakhan. It is a very interesting dish that combines grilled chicken with lots of onions soaked in oil and baked in Taboon bread. It is really delicious and what gives it its particular taste is the generous amount of sumac and pine nuts that are sprinkled on top.

Mussakhan, grilled chicken with lots of onions soaked in oil and baked in Taboon bread, with generous amounts of sumac and pine nuts. Most Israelis have no idea that Palestinian cuisine even exists, or what it might consist of. Here is the recipe for Mussakhan

Ahmad also talked about the food from the Tiberias region where he comes from, and Larissa remembered the fish from the lake in Tiberias. This used to be her favourite fish when she was growing up. Larissa remembers Tiberias as a magical place. It used to be her favourite holiday place when she was a child. She loved swimming in that lake. She used to go there with her family for long holidays as well as camping trips with her school. It is one place that she is very sad she cannot visit anymore. As a Palestinian, she is not allowed to enter Israel at all. St Peter’s fish (A type of Tilapia) is delicious!
St Peter’s fish (A type of Tilapia) from the Tiberias region, which Palestinians no longer have access to.

Ahmad explained that a lot of Palestinians that own restaurants abroad refer to their food as Lebanese and that says a lot about Palestinian identity. Many do this because they don’t think that people abroad would be interested in Palestinian food as there are so many negative associations with Palestine. This in turn builds an erroneous image to the world of what Palestine is. Ahmad goes on to say that this self-censorship, if you will, is not only limited to restaurants but to many other fields. Palestinians often hide their identity for fear of being harassed. Ahmad went on to tell us a story which was both emotional, complex, and telling about some of the work relationships in his job at a manufacturing systems place. This story could have easily fitted in Paul Haggis’s film Crash, about racial and social tensions in Los Angeles. It was a painful episode that partly contributed to him leaving his job and looking for another source of income rather than in his trade, and so he opened a falafel place.

It is interesting to note that in a previous article in the Guardian, about people from war zones who run successful businesses in the UK, they wrote that Ahmad has a PHD in chemical engineering; whereas what he really has is a Masters in advanced manufacturing systems. It is amusing to see how people want to project their own myths unto him. It is amusingly fitting here, when the subject matter at hand is Palestine. The Guardian also put his mobile number in the article, and since then he said, people from all across the UK call him to chat; he found this amusing.