I am going to start by stating that what I am about to write on is a very serious matter here in the Middle East. This is a topic that I have wanted to write about for a while now, but I was never sure how to approach the subject. It is a complicated and controversial topic, and I hope you can all keep an open mind while I express my views about hummus.
Let’s start with a little bit of history…
Hummus is actually the Arabic word for chickpeas. Chickpeas were invented over 7,000 years ago, and they are one of the first agricultural plants ever. So, it makes sense that hummus has a long, long controversial history here in the Middle East, and hummus is also one of the oldest dishes known to man/woman.
The ingredients in hummus are pretty simple: mashed chickpeas, maybe blend in a little tehina (a thick white sauce made out of sesame seeds), a bit of lemon juice, olive oil, maybe some spices, salt and/or garlic.
For Palestinians, hummus has always been around. They usually serve their hummus hot and fresh. Same with the hummus in neighboring places like Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt.
Despite the Arab origins, Israelis have recently claimed hummus and falafel as their “National Snack.” This bold claim is obviously causing some controversy in the Arab world. Some are saying that Israelis don’t give falafel and hummus any credit to its real Arab and Egyptian origins and that it is not assigned to the appropriate culture.
In 2008, people in Lebanon actually requested to protect the status of hummus as strictly being a Lebanese food. In terms of hummus being “Israeli’ it is most likely adopted from the Jews who moved from these Arab countries, bringing the recipes into Israel. And only more recently, in the 1990s, did hummus become a prepackaged item for Israelis to keep as a household item. Did you know that there are actually shops and restaurants that serve only hummus here? They are called Hummusiot.
People back in the States are probably more familiar with hummus as a cold processed product that is served as an appetizer or a dip. But the real hummus here, the warm fresh hummus, is served in a bowl as a meal.
Now, no offense to anyone (both Arabs and Israelis, hummus-lovers and hummus-haters), but I was never a huge fan of hummus. Sometimes I would eat it for a healthy snack, or in college, when it was (maybe a bit too often), the only thing left in the fridge.
But I tell you this from the bottom of my heart: There is nothing like sitting down to a warm bowl of freshly homemade hummus at a Hummusiot here in the Middle East. I’ve had Palestinian hummus, Lebanese hummus, and Israeli hummus here. I don’t care who made it, where it came from, who thinks it belongs to them, because the flavors and the textures (without sounding too much like a redbull commercial) is literally an explosion of your senses, and is an intense experience to not be missed when traveling here. It is like one of the Wonders of the World…
Okay, I may be over-exaggerating a little bit, but let me explain to you what a real Hummusiot is like, and you can judge for yourself:
First of all, you are destined to wait in line for a good twenty minutes, being pushed and shoved by people who want to get inside the restaurant, or at least order takeout. Once you’re inside, there are never too many tables, so you are probably sitting with strangers, but it doesn’t matter, because no one pays any attention to anything but the hummus here.
Your eyes are treated to a colorful array of ripe red tomatoes, raw white onions, pickles, green olives, and purple beats. You can hear the background noise of the food runners rushing hummus out to everyone who sits down, and instead of the servers writing down your order, they shout it out after you place it, loud enough so that the guys in the back kitchen can hear. Your mouth waters from the thick texture and unique rich taste, and your nose runs from the spicy sauce left out for you to put in your hummus to your preference.
Here you are, your nose is running, you’re surrounded by shouting, and you’re drooling from the delicious warm bowl of heaven- but you can’t wipe your nose, your drool, or cover your ears from the shouting, because one of your hands is filled with pockets of warm pita, and the other hand is knuckle deep in a bowl of hummus. To put it more bluntly, you are one hot-mess.
Tips to the men out there- Hummusiots are not really a good idea for a first (or third) date, (no offense Yosi…) because not only are you a hot mess, but you really only sit down for five or ten minutes, because you have to devour your hummus fast or the people who are in line, waiting to get in, start giving you evil glares.
I know, I know… it sounds crazy and awful, but the hummus is so good that it’s worth it. Worth it so much, that some people (like me) will eventually get spoiled here. I mean, the hummus is so good that I cried. I cried tears of joy over hummus. How can I go back to the below-the-pretzels processed stuff that you can find on sale in bulk in BJ’s?
Okay, I guess what I am trying to get at with this inevitable serious post but not so serious post at all as it turns out, is that hummus tastes really good here. Both Palestinians and Israelis make good hummus. And I am 100% sure that Egyptians, Syrians, and the Lebanese make good hummus too. Not only do they make it well, and serve it well, but it tastes so good- to everyone, both Israelis and Arabs. So, in terms of conflict in the Middle East, who knows? Maybe someone like Barack Obama has his own hummus recipe that he can bring to the next Middle East Summit and everyone will like it, and at least for a few moments, the world will be more at peace.