Middle-Eastern eateries team up to change the world through UBC lunches

Jan 18 2019, 3:17 pm

It appears there aren’t too many chefs in the kitchen at Chickpea and Aleph restaurants when love, peace and equality are on the menu.

The two popular plant-based Vancouver eateries have teamed up for a lunch event at the University of British Columbia with a common goal: To connect a wide range of communities, through food.

Chickpea, a vegan Israeli-owned restaurant, and Aleph, a vegetarian Palestinian-owned restaurant, are calling it “A Taste Of Coexistence,” and will be held in conjunction with the Jewish organization Hillel BC every Wednesday.
This comes as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the world’s longest-running conflicts which has been lasting decades, continues in the Middle East.

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In an Instagram post, Aleph Owners Haitham El Khatib and Fiona Hepher, and Chickpea Owners Rotem Tal, Itamar Shani and Jordana Shani, announced that they’ll be hosting these buffet lunches at Hillel BC until the end of the semester.


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We’re very excited about this one.. Once again, food brings us together. For the last few weeks we have been working with the family behind @ilovechickpea to bring the true meaning of Aleph to life through building a friendship that breaks down walls and promotes coexistence. Every Wednesday from 12-1:30 pm we’re alternating ‘A Taste of Coexistence’ lunches for $8 @hillel.bc at @universityofbc Here’s our collective statement that brought us together: In today’s world, it is crucial for us to communicate openly with one another. It is through sharing our boundaries rather than holding on to grudges, leaning into love and being vulnerable rather than sticking to fear that gives us the opportunity to connect. We believe all of this is important to break the barriers that have been erected for centuries. There are injustices and political issues that are complex and we admit that they are bigger than us. However, we hope that by coming together today and sharing these meals, we are setting the stage for better communication, addressing our inherited grievances, recognizing one another’s pain, acknowledging our histories and shifting the power balance. We are Haitham, Itamar and Rotem, chefs of Palestinian and Israeli descent. We believe in peace, love, equality, equity and justice for the people of today and the children of tomorrow. This is what brings us together and this is true coexistence. #atasteofcoexistence

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The restaurants will each be rotating turns serving their dishes to patrons each week (Aleph serving one week, Chickpea the other).

While there is no set menu, you can expect a “deconstructed buffet-version” of the Falafel Platter (pictured below): dishes including a mix of chickpeas, parsley, onions, garlic and spices fried and served with crunchy fried eggplant, hummus, chickpea fries (gluten-free) and drizzled with sweet chili sauce and amba mango sauce, along with salads, warm pitas, fried cauliflower, and a tahini bar with a variety of sauces, to name a few.

The dishes aren’t always planned ahead, El Khatib said in a phone interview with Daily Hive Vancouver, explaining that his plates are inspired “from the moment and from like new culinary techniques or old culinary techniques.”

El Khatib said when they arrived to the very first lunch at Hillel with Chickpea in the beginning of the month, they didn’t discuss what they were planning to make, “and I looked at the spread that the guys had out, and I was like ‘this is exactly what I’m going to serve the next week’ (laughs).”

Photo courtesy: Chickpea Food Truck Inc. (Falafel Platter)

Rabbi Philip Bregman said when Hillel BC was thinking of creating the hot-lunch program to bring people together at the table, it was a little while after he first tried Aleph for its vegetarian menu — a referral from his daughter Jordana, Co-Owner of Chickpea.

Fast forward a couple of months later, Bregman said it occurred to him that the organization should bring together Aleph and Chickpea for the program — adding that they both agreed to the collaboration in a “nano second.”

Jordana said before the two restaurants were approached about the hot-lunch program in the fall by her father, “we already saw each other as colleagues, not as competition,” and “by the time January rolled around we were family.”

El Khatib calls this collaboration of the two Middle-Eastern restaurants “a beautiful message” because it proves how people “who are usually considered enemies” can come together to share their stories, pain and history with each other — and build a life together.

“We didn’t decide about the name, of like ‘the taste of Israel and Palestine,’ we decide to call it ‘The Taste Of Coexistence’ because each person in this universe needs to learn how to coexist with everything around him, even if it’s union with the nature or people with religion.”

“[Haitham] and I … just talked for hours about how much we are similar,” Itamar said, adding they wanted to give other people the same opportunity to connect like they did.

Tal said while he doesn’t have kids of his own, he’s appreciated the opportunity to watch the two families raise their kids together, and “finding people that are supposed to be your enemies and then they become your closest friends,” calling it: “mind-blowing.”

Photo courtesy: Aleph Eatery. (Silk Road)

El Khatib said the world needs to “lean into love rather than leaning into fear,” adding “there’s also the ability to come around one table and talk about all these differences and still exist together in one respectful way, two: in a non-hateful way, and three: in a peaceful, non-violent way.”

Bregman said he wants people to see what is possible when they sit down for a meal together, “what they see are cousins for all intents and purposes Israelis and Palestinians collaborating, cooperating, coexisting with one another, sharing, talking, and it’s not that everything that one says the other absolutely 101 per cent agrees with, not at all, but it’s respectful.”

Photo courtesy: Chickpea Food Truck Inc.

Bregman said to make the program affordable, especially for students, Hillel and the restaurants negotiated an $8 price for the meals, and the organization fundraised over nearly a three-week period:  Donors who made the program possible included members of the Jewish, Christian, Muslims, Shikh & Baha’i Communities, and the UBC administration.

The lunch continues to bring in a larger crowd each week as the story spreads on social media with students and faculty, according to Bregman.

“It was in our pursuit of engaging with food that this moment has become possible,” El Khatib said, adding that a take away he would like to see his guests have “I think what I said earlier about just leaning into love and favouring it over fear in every decision and every interaction we do and engage in… in life, I think has the ability to change the world.”

Taste of Coexistence

Where: Hillel BC 6145 Student Union Boulevard, Vancouver
When: Now through April 3 on Wednesdays from noon to 1:30 pm
Price: $8
Bonus event: Free lunch at the NEST Wednesday, February 27, noon to 1:30 pm (both Aleph and Chickpea serving together)

Photo courtesy: Chickpea Food Truck Inc.

Michelle MortonMichelle Morton

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