Tubs of hummus – cooked,
mashed chickpeas mixed with garlic, olive oil and lemon -- fill refrigerators
all over the globe, but where can the best be found? One contender for the gold
medal is Israel, where, despite political differences, locals have embraced
this Arabic dish as their own.
the origin of hummus (which simply means “chickpea”
in Arabic), is unclear, people have been consuming this thick savoury paste for
millennia in the Middle East. Medieval recipe
books show it was eaten in Egypt and the
Levant (Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon) before
spreading to Turkey, Greece and across the Mediterranean.
then, it has become the basis of an entire food culture in Israel. In fact,
according to Israel-based hummus manufacturer Sabra Salads, Israelis consume
twice as much hummus as their Arab neighbours. The most popular version of
hummus in Israel is served warm in a large bowl, sprinkled with parsley, cumin and
other spices. It has the consistency of a very thick soup and is scooped up
with hot pita bread, raw onion and pickled cucumbers. In Palestinian areas,
hummus is usually served at breakfast, sometimes accompanied with labaneh
(cold yoghurt) and fresh mint leaves. Indeed, many of
the Arab hummus eateries are only open until 2 pm each day, following the
traditional Arabic saying that “kings eat hummus in the morning”, referring to
the tradition of cooking a pot of chickpeas overnight and savouring the
freshest portion at dawn.
Israel originally adopted hummus as its unofficial national dish because it
suited Jewish Kashrut laws -- religious rules that deal with eating and food
preparation. Religious Jews buy only kosher-certified products and they separate
their meat and dairy foods. Since hummus complements vegetarian, dairy and meat
dishes, it became a popular choice, and over time, has become much more than
just a dip.
“We have such a deep respect for the dish in Israel that there are
eateries around the country devoted to serving just hummus,” explained Inbal
Baum, founder of the tour company Delicious
Israel, which offers culinary and speciality boutique walks, including popular
guided “hummus crawls” in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. "There are so many
varieties of hummus developed in Israel based on ethnic tradition and local
style that you could easily spend a long weekend touring just for hummus. Many
Israelis trace their roots back to Arabic-speaking countries, and this fusion
is reflected in their creative cuisine."
The humble dish of hummus represents, quite literally, the melting pot of
Israeli culture. In the last century, Jewish immigrants from countries such as Iraq,
Yemen and Morocco each brought with them their own unique hummus habits. For
example, Iraqis serve hummus with sabich (fried eggplant and boiled
eggs) while Moroccans prefer Hasa Al Hummus, a vegetarian chickpea soup.
In more recent decades, Israel has received a growing number of African
immigrants and today there is even a Sudanese hummus joint in Tel Aviv called Hummus Gan Eden (46 Yona Ha’Navi Street;
972-03-510-2230). Their African-flavoured menu features Special Hummus Darfur, which
adds egg, tomato and grated cheese to the mix.
to find an authentic family-run hummusia
(an eatery devoted solely to hummus) in Israel you need to be in the know. Most
traditional hummus places are housed in old buildings, often hidden down
alleyways and with signs only in Hebrew or Arabic. It seems the really good
places do not need to advertise, as word-of-mouth reviews bring in the crowds.
good place to start your hummus hunt is in Tel Aviv’s Yemenite
Quarter. This sleepy old-fashioned neighbourhood in the centre of town,
footsteps away from the bustling Carmel Market, was
originally inhabited by Jewish immigrants from Yemen. Its narrow lanes play
host to a number of hummus and soup kitchens such as Achim Aziri (30 Yihye Street, 972-03-516-0783), which serves
hummus hot with skhug (a traditional Yemenite-style spicy sauce made
from red or green peppers).
For a slice of Jamaica, head to one of the liveliest little
eateries in town, Hummus Abu Dhabi (81 King George Street; 972-03-525-9090). Reggae
music is popular with young Israelis, so it makes sense that this place mixes the
sounds of Bob Marley with its chickpea offerings.
A few kilometres south of Tel Aviv, in the Ajami neighbourhood of
Jaffa, is one of the holiest temples of hummus. The much-revered Ali Caravan (1 Dolphin Street; 972-03-682-8255), also
known as “Abu Hassan”, has been a place of pilgrimage since opening in 1966.
Everyday, queues of people wait patiently, and impatiently, for warm plates of masabacha
– a type of hummus that is recognisable by its red colour, thanks to the added paprika.
Abu Hassan, the
owner and the local master of masabacha,
is so popular that a few imitation Abu Hassans have opened elsewhere in the
Jerusalem also has its fair share of heavenly hummus. Lina (42 Akava El
Hanaachah Street; 972-02-627-7230) is a tiny restaurant located in the Old
City's Christian Quarter and specialises in delicious no-frills hummus. But
locals say Abu Shukri (63 Al-Wad
Road, 972-02-627-1538) has the best hummus in the Holy City. Its thick and creamy
dip is so loved that Jordanians order giant frozen tubs of it from across the
Around 10km west of Jerusalem, the town of Abu
Ghosh has been dubbed the “Capital of Hummus” by the Guinness Book of Records, once
holding the world
record for the largest
dish of hummus, which weighed more than four tons,
before it was beaten by a town in Lebanon which cooked up 11 tons in May 2010. Although
predominantly a Muslim town, Abu Ghosh welcomes Jews and Christians, who come
to see the Church
of Notre Dame -- said to be built on the site where the Ark of the Covenant
once rested. No visit here is complete without also going to Abu Ghosh Retaurant (65 HaShalom St;
972-02-533-2019), which has been featured in the New
York Times and specialises in barbecued kebabs and sliced shwarma meat
along with its excellent hummus.
Heading north, the port city of Akko has nearly 30 hummus places,
but the most famous is undoubtedly Hummus Said (Old City; 972-04-955-2232), pronounced “Sayeed”. Just a short walk from
the sea, Said has a breezy Mediterranean feel offering Greek-style salads with
their hummus drenched in olive oil, which is made from the owner's own olive
On the outskirts of Akko, the small village of Kfar Yasif is home
to Abu Adham (Highway Route 70; 972-04-9996245). One of the most popular hummusiot
in the country, Israelis have been known to travel hours just to try their
with fuul – a thick paste made from fava beans.
But all this is just a drop in the hummus ocean. Across the
northern Galilee region there are dozens of Arab and Druze villages, each
offering their own homemade variety. The Druze, an Arab religious tribe separate
from Islam, bake uniquely thin pita bread and serve hummus with za’atar
(hyssop herb), a shrub that grows locally in the Carmel Mountains on the
outskirts of Haifa in northern Israel.
Like pasta in Italy, each community adds its own unique flavour to the world of
hummus. “While the media often focuses on division in this region, when it
comes to delicious food like hummus, the people of the region are quite united,”
said Baum. “The only division between Muslims, Jews and Christians is, who is
ordering the masbacha and who is ordering the fuul.” In an often-troubled
region, it seems the love of hummus is a great unifier.
The article 'Hunting for hummus in Israel' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.