Before I headed to Israel, I was forewarned by family and friends. “Is it safe to go there?” they investigated with caution, influenced, of course, by what they had heard in the media. Nevertheless, once I started traveling through Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa, those worries were easily put to rest as I immersed myself in the culture and the oh-so-delicious food. One thing I can definitely say that I observed is how very passionate the Israeli people are about food. This country, which is slightly larger than the state of New Jersey, has over 70 nationalities and consequently diverse food subcultures. Like its people, the food of Israel has roots everywhere in the world.

Influences of Italy, France, Spain, Russia, Poland, Lebanon, Morocco, Iraq, Bulgaria and much more, could be seen throughout restaurants and markets. So many interesting choices, “what was a girl to do?” I certainly could have stayed in Israel for a month and still not tasted every dish that I wanted to taste!

So, while the rest of the world may have been concerned about the political and religious wrangling in the region, I concerned myself with finding a way to eat as much as I could within a month.

So “What is Hummus?”. Glad you asked.

My Hummus History Lesson

Timolina/Shutterstock

Timolina/Shutterstock

Hummus is an integral part of the Israeli diet, due to it’s historic and cultural significance and it’s also the national food symbol. It’s made from ingredients that, following Kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), can be combined with both meat and dairy meals. And although hummus preparations can also be found in kitchens across the Middle East, it is believed that Israelis consume more than twice as much hummus than any other country.

Did you know?

  • Some time ago, heated debates took place about who really owned hummus and who made it the best
  • Debates led to the “hummus wars” between Israel and Lebanon in 2008. And, since then…
  • Countries have gone through lawsuits, taken chefs into the battlefield, and converted satellites dishes into artillery, competing in the Guinness Book of Records for the biggest place of hummus ever.

No wonder there were so many Hummus versions to choose from. It’s a tradition that is steeped in the Israeli culture and way of being.

Off to the Hummus Markets

credit Christina Garofalo/ flickr.com

credit Christina Garofalo/ flickr.com

While I toured the famous Carmel Market in Tel Aviv, with Ms. Moron, my tour guide, she explained that many restaurants run by Mizrahi Jews and Arab citizens of Israel are dedicated to hot hummus. We stopped at Shlomon and Dorrone, what looked to be a hole in the wall hummus joint, also known as hummusia, with a few tables out on the street. At 10am, it was already packed with locals having their scrumptious breakfast of hummus and pita, with all the fixings. Soon, groups of tourists make their way here, as it is a must stop on most food tours.

How to Eat Hummus

credit Sucheta Rawal/ goeatgive.com

credit Sucheta Rawal/ goeatgive.com

The proper way to eat hummus masabacha (or hot hummus) is as a meal at breakfast or brunch, not as a side or a dip. Chickpeas are soaked overnight in baking soda, then ground with garlic, olive oil, cumin, lemon juice and tahini. The consistency of the chickpeas should vary to include a chunkier section on the outer layer and creamier mashed version in the center of the plate. It can be topped with shakshuka, whole cooked chickpeas, cumin, paprika and parsley. A whole egg is boiled in black tea water and placed on top. Accompaniments include raw onions (peeled like scoops), long green peppers, lemon wedges and hot off the oven warm pita bread. Ms. Moron demonstrates that I need to move my wrist in a circular way to scoop the hummus with my onion. This is by far the best hummus I have ever eaten!

Of course, everyone has their own recipe, and there is an ongoing competition of who makes the best hummus, but the animated arguments and friendly hummus battles are perhaps a great way to unify the people of Middle East over good food.

Visited Isreal before? Consider yourself a hummus expert? We’d love if you would share some of your favorite experiences (or recipes 🙂 ) in our comment section below.

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