“Hey, you must be Zoé! Welcome!”, is the friendly greeting I receive as I walk up to Love & Peas on the Weimarstraat (37) in The Hague. The one welcoming me so enthusiastically is Yuval; the Israeli chef and co-owner of this restaurant. “Is your business partner Muawi also joining us?”, I ask. “Oh yes, but he runs on Palestinian time, you know?” Both of us laugh and the atmosphere is immediately relaxed and comfortable. Contributing to this is also the colourful, 1970s retro style interior that the restaurant has been decorated in, reminding you of your grandmother’s dining room. As I settle onto a red corduroy couch in the corner, Yuval explains to me that the interior reflects their vision for the restaurant; a place where everyone feels welcome and at home, with just a hint of nostalgia.
Love & Peas has been classified by many as a vegetarian restaurant due to the fact that there are no meat dishes on the menu, however this label is something Yuval and Muawi would like to move away from: “When you go to eat at a hummus restaurant back home, nobody expects to be served a kebab. The vegetarian label is simply not necessary.” The consumption of more vegetables and less meat is something Muawi and Yuval encourage anyway, as well as the use of pure and wholesome ingredients. Yuval, having been raised vegetarian, adds that Love & Peas aims to serve the vegetable as it is; exhibiting its own power and nutritional benefits, rather than turning it into a “meat-like” substitute. “The cauliflower is awesome! We should be proud of it.”, he exclaims. Moreover, serving only vegetarian dishes allows every person to eat everything on the table without restriction, enhancing the owners’ wish of having each guest feel welcome.
After approximately 20 minutes of chatting about food and having worked up quite an appetite, the first mezze start arriving at our table and begin filling the air with incredible, aromatic fragrances. Before I eagerly break a piece off a whole meal pita and start digging in, I just about manage to ask what exactly I have in front of me:
- A traditional hummus, garnished with parsley, whole chick peas and olive oil
- Baba Ganoush; an eggplant cream
- Tehiniye; a sesame sauce with green herbs
- Cauliflower Tahina; fried cauliflower marinated in a sesame cream and parsley
- Zahara; fried cauliflower in a dressing of lemon and garlic
- Batata Harra; spicy potato garnished with mint
- Falafel; fried chick pea balls with herbs and spices
- White and whole meal pita breads
- A little dish of plain tomato, cucumber, olives, and pickled parsnip and cucumber to cleanse the palette between dishes
As I begin to float into a heaven of spices and enjoy one of the most flavourful and herb-filled falafels I have ever had, Muawi talks to me about the importance of the tradition and origin of food. He recalls how in the Palestinian culture, food is something which is celebrated with explosions of flavour and taste. The concept of mezze, where one breaks off a piece from the same pita bread as one’s dinner companions and “dances” from one dish to the next, demonstrates hospitality and relaxation through the notion of a full table and the sharing of food. It is also important to both Muawi and Yuval to give credit to where it is due. While the menu of Love & Peas is a collection of collaborative dishes from both the Israeli and Palestinian kitchens, Muawi does make it clear that the true home of hummus is Palestine. Items such as the ‘Arabic Salad’ or ‘Arabic Coffee’ on the other hand are named as such due to their collective origins.
Throughout this discussion of food, tradition, and cultures with the two owners, it becomes evident that for them Love & Peas is a nostalgic nod to their home countries. Yuval came to the Netherlands six years ago whereas Muawi moved to The Hague almost twenty years ago, following his Dutch mother. However, feeling comfortable among the international and green environment of The Hague, Muawi and Yuval noticed the growing interest in international cuisine and in 2013 decided to develop a concept for their restaurant. Despite their national and cultural backgrounds, Yuval and Muawi take very little interest in making any form of political statement with their collaboration. Instead, it almost seems like an unintentional, promotional gimmick for the restaurant. When asked how they initially met and connected, Muawi replies: “Through mutual understanding of the situation and compassion for humanity.”
Above anything, with Love & Peas, Muawi and Yuval intend to bring forward a notion for the nutritional power of vegetables, the reduced consumption of meat, and the cooking with real, wholesome ingredients. “Food is like Love”, Muawi concludes, “at first you don’t know what it’s going to do with your body exactly, but you better make sure that it’s a good thing in the long-run.”