Sunday, March 27, 2011

Israeli Hummus Wars – The Disgruntled Diner Lists his Favourites

Abu Hassan / Ali Caravan – Jaffa
Lina – Old City, Jerusalem
The Syrian – Yemenite Quarter, Tel Aviv
Abu Dhabi – Tel Aviv

No blog / review about food and society in Israel would be complete without some mention of hummus and I will not be an exception to that rule. Hummus is very important to Israeli’s and is almost a way of life – I agree it can be hard to understand when you are abroad, especially with the low quality hummus there, but in Israel it is just damn tasty and addiction is guaranteed. Hummus is also not just the simple dish of mashed chick peas but has different level of complexities and additions which are constantly discussed and argued about. In fact, hummus could almost be considered as wine, basically a product that also has many nuances and variations.

Being the Middle East, hummus is also an emotive subject - Articles, discussions and fights have occurred on who makes and serves the best hummus. Even International incidents have erupted on who invented hummus with both Lebanon and Israel contending for the title.

The Disgruntled Diner doesn’t care about the politics and whether it was Israel, Lebanon or China who created the dish. All I care about is the flavour, though I must warn you readers that hummus is very subjective as it comes in several different guises and additions in Israel. With names such as Masabaha and Mashusha (same ingredients but prepared in a different manner) and Hummus Ful (hummus with fava beans).

I will never forget the first time I took the Brunette to a hummus place in Israel (Roni Ful) and she was served warm hummus. The look of disgust and dismay was apparent and who can blame her. Most people outside of the Middle East are used to regular cold hummus that comes in a tub or with tehina that you get in Middle Eastern restaurants. In Israel hummus is more complex and many people eat it with ful (fava beans), hard boiled egg and mostly as a late morning dish. Most pure hummus places in Israel close by midday/early afternoon.

The reality is there is no best hummus though everyone in Israel will swear by one place or another and say their's is the best!  I will not do so, but one thing has become apparent and that is that hummus does taste different from place to place – I feel like I am slowly becoming a hummus connoisseur with the differences becoming evident as it does with a good and bad bottle of wine.

I do not profess or have the arrogance in claiming which is the best hummus out of the hundreds of places in Israel, but will review four places I think are very good and should be tried.

Abu Hassan /Ali Caravan – Jaffa

Considered by many as The Mecca of Hummus in Israel. Recently there was only one smallish location where it could be enjoyed and that until the hummus ran out by midday. I have eaten at this place several times over the years and always fell into the consensus that this was the best when it was only a small location and had strict opening times (maybe the difficulty made it more appealing).

In recent years a couple more branches have opened in Jaffa and I had the chance to visit the one near Jerusalem Boulevard at lunchtime. As usual there was a line and after a short wait we were served Masabaha. Surprisingly the dish was spicy even before putting any condiments. The Masabaha itself was very tasty with the cooked chick peas melting in your mouth. However, I could not get the added spiciness out of my mind which slightly took away my enjoyment. So with extremely high expectations I was left a little underwhelmed. Tasty it is but the best? not quite this time in my humble opinion.

Lina – Old City Jerusalem

Walking around the streets and alleyways of old Jerusalem is an amazing experience and a must for any visitor. In one of those alleyways (St Francis) is another hummus institution called Lina – from the outside it doesn’t look like much but go in anyway.

I go there from time to time when in Jerusalem as I consider it an easy eating hummus, perfect for visitors. I usually order a simple hummus and tehina which is smooth and has some slight sour/acidic undertones (not unpleasant). As an interesting side note,  I have eaten is several hummus places in East Jerusalem and have discovered that all the hummuses have a similar acidic undertone, different from the hummus in Tel Aviv. Not my favourite but still very good and excellent for visitors.

The Syrian – Yemenite Quarter, Tel Aviv

Located in the Yemenite quarter adjacent to the Carmel market in Tel Aviv is another hummus institution. Most of the tables litter the alleyway outside and it is not uncommon to share a table. I always order the hummus with ful and egg, and while the portions are small I must profess that this is my favourite (so far). The hummus is silky smooth with the right balance of acidity, the ful and egg compliment the main dish perfectly though here there is a slight bitterness that I wouldn’t mind having a few granules of sugar to offset.

The hummus here is the closest to perfection I have found for my taste buds. A must for any hummus aficionado!

Hummus Abu Dhabi – Tel Aviv

An unusual name for a hummus place and one which is open all the time (as opposed to many which close by the afternoon). This place is located near Dizengof Centre on King George Street. From the outside it appears as if Bob Marley has designed the place and has an affinity to reggae music. Most of the cliental are young 20 – 30 crowd and is busy most of the time. This place specializes in Galilee style hummus and with dishes called mashuasha. Basically it is another way of preparing the Hummus which is pastier and for me my least favourite of the four, though many people swear by it as being excellent. The place is recommended as it is different (unique) from many other hummus places.

This is but my humble selection and as you can imagine there are hundreds of hummus places in Israel. In the future I will return and try the hummus in Acco, Abu Gosh etc but this is a good starter for people who are visiting for the first time and want to try this very Middle Eastern delicacy. For anyone interested in learning more about hummus I would recommend the excellent blog Hummus 101 for everything hummus related.

Happy dining and enjoy!

The Disgruntled Diner.

1 comment:

  1. If you're ever in the neighborhood, try Bein Aza LeBerlin in Jerusalem, which is located at the intersection of Aza and Berlin streets. I find the hummus there quite tasty. They also have real nice kube.