Breaking Bread was acclaimed by the New York times, which despite loving it classifies the film as “a little too optimistic” Breaking Bread is a documentary that follows the preparations of a food festival in Israel, in which chefs of Arab and Jewish descent join forces to create dishes together.
The film, by first-time director Beth Elise Hawk, is an award-winning love letter to Middle Eastern food.
It follows the Arab food festival, A-sham, which has been held annually for four years in Haifa.
A-sham is the Arabic name for the area also known as the Levant – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Palestine and Turkey. The festival was co-founded by Nof Atamna-Ismaeel and Arieh Rosen.
In 2014, Atamna-Ismaeel was the first Israeli Arab to win MasterChef Israel. In the film, she says that the victory gave her “some kind of power to use food in order to build bridges between.” she says to the camera.
Hawk left a steady job at Walt Disney Pictures to produce her own films. “I heard Nof on the radio in Los Angeles when she had just won MasterChef. “I made contact with her via Facebook and we started talking. When she mentioned the festival, I knew I had to tell this story.”
This was in 2017 and just a few weeks before the festival was to take place, so Hawk had to act fast to raise funds. “We filmed on a limited budget, with only one crew.”
The film follows some of the chef’s partnerships, starting with Shlomi Meir whose restaurant, founded in 1962 by Shlomi’s Holocaust survivor grandfather, specializes in smoked meat. Shlomi works in tandem with Ali Khattib chef of a restaurant in Ghaja, a small town in northern Israel, divided in two by the border with Lebanon.
Ali’s comity has its roots in Syria. He says he is passionate about keeping the ancient recipes of his ancestors alive. He is as proud of being Israeli as he is of his cooking, which he dreams of popularizing among Israeli chefs.
All chefs are given a list of dishes from the region that are considered extinct or have cultural significance. They can choose one to work on together. Ali and Shlomi are given kishek, a Syrian recipe that uses bulghur wheat and dried yogurt that was traditionally made to preserve yogurt during the winter. Ali is the only one of the 70 chefs at the festival who can make this, as it is a dying tradition.
Atamna-Ismaeel explains that although it is made in Syria, a few hours away, he can only buy this dried yogurt when he visits Belgium, “Why? Because of politics!”
We also met Osama Dalad, a young Palestinian chef from Akko, paired with long-haired Ilan Ferron, who has a Catholic father and an Italian Jewish mother and runs the Talpiot restaurant in Talpiot Market.
They create a maqluba octopus – a roast of rice, potatoes, vegetables and chickpeas that literally means “upside down,” describing how it is served on the platter.
Tomer Abergel of the restaurant When Pasha pairs up with Salah Cordi, who in telling about his childhood in Jaffa says, “In our neighborhood, we speak in Arabic. We laugh in Hebrew. We curse in Romanian. We got upset in Moroccan. And it was all sababa (OK)!” Salah and Tomer reinvent qatayer – traditionally sweet pastries – by making savory versions.
We met a number of chefs and restaurateurs, including Shoshi and Fadi Karaman – a Jewish/Arab couple with adult children and a hummus restaurant – Hummus Fadi. They are paired with chef Chaim Tibi as part of the festival’s ‘Hummus Project’.
Hummus, falafel and Israeli/Arab salad all make appearances as dishes over which nations fight over ownership.
It would be naive to think that a food festival could calm the focus that is the region, but Atamna-Ismaeel is hopeful: “I will use food to change some people and if everyone does that, maybe we can make a big change.”
Eu Como Sim the recipe blog of Gastronomos.