Hummus: the ultimate guide for beginners

hummus abu dubiIf you’re a first-timer to Israel, one of the initial things that’ll hit you is the Israeli obsession with food. Israelis simply love their food – and especially their hummus and falafel (don’t miss our guide to the legend that is…falafel).

It won’t take many hours (maybe even minutes!) before you come across that passion for eating. Just take a walk down any high street during meal-time hours and be prepared for the hit from the exotic smells luring hordes of huddled strangers into dodgy looking street cafes/kiosks (a hummus joint is known as a hummusiyah in Hebrew).

And if you take a peek into those dodgy looking cafes and kiosks, you’ll probably be wondering what the fuss is all about. On first impressions, that obsession with hummus might just appear a little questionable. It doesn’t really look that appetizing, it has to be said. Fairly sloppy looking chickpea paste, with a variety of garnishings that also fail to inspire (typically faba beans, a boiled egg, a small pool of olive oil, some parsley…). You could be forgiven for thinking “Oh dear”…

But never judge a book by its cover, right? Because once you’re hooked (and it will only take a couple of decent hummus dishes to reel you in), there’s no denying the magic of hummus…

What exactly is hummus made of?

Hummus is made from cooked and mashed chickpeas, and blended with a variety of goodies that may be down to the individual hummusiyah owner, but will invariably include tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic. The main hummus dish is often garnished with faba beans, a boiled egg, and parsley.

Some hummus history

The main ingredients behind hummus have been around for ever (probably). The actual use of chickpeas was believed to have started way back in Egypt  some 7000 years ago, but the mashing into the hummus we know of today first started around the 13th century. Hummus back then also used pickled lemons and vinegar for flavoring. The first documented proof of hummus’ existence comes from a 19th century text originating from Damascus…

How exactly do you spell it?

Good question! The first thing you’ve got to get your head round, before you even taste it, is the sheer number of spellings you’ll come across in your search for the perfect hummus. Er, how about humus, houmous, hommos, hommus, hummos or hummous…we prefer to go with the seemingly standard hummus.

Er, OK, how do I actually eat hummus?

hummus israelIn Israel there are 3 main ways of eating hummus.

The main way has to be sitting down at a small, no thrills hummusiyah (check out our upcoming guide to the best hummus restaurants), with a plate of sloppy hummus to plow through. Our tip for eating hummus is to watch those around you (When in Rome and all that…) and hopefully you’ll be accompanied by a local who knows the ropes. If not, just bear in mind that the pita bread is your main friend, and is used to scoop up the hummus (the pros will be scooping their hummus with raw onion – you should try it!), check out the video below for some guidance! Yes, no knives and often no forks…

The other two ways of eating hummus are as a side-dish/dip when you eat at a typical Israeli/Middle Eastern type of restaurant, or as a paste/filler for your sandwich/pita stuffed full of shnitzel or schwarma. Just expect to see hummus a LOT on any visit to the Holy Land!

And why do Israelis love hummus so much?

It has to be down to the general creamy goodness, the social huddle at the hummusiyah, and the speed and ease at which hummus can be eaten. Israelis generally love to cut corners, so the “fast food” element of the typical hummus dish ticks many boxes for the busy Israeli…

And another reason the average Israeli is more than happy to tuck into a plate of hummus is its healthy side. Forget about the tubs of hummus you can buy in the supermarket, we’re talking about the hand made stuff…

What makes hummus so healthy? Well, 60-70% of it is water, and the other main ingredient, tahini (sesame seeds), has a lot of Omega 3 in it. Thanks to the tahini, hummus also contains a lot of nutrients and vitamins, including vitamins C and B6. There is typically around 200 calories per 100g of hummus, not particularly great for those on serious diets, but hummus will fill you up without increasing your glucose levels too much.

Fact: The average Israeli consumes around 10kg of hummus per year!

Where are the best hummus restaurants in Israel?

If you ask 10 Israelis for a recommendation, you’ll get 10 different answers! Everyone has their favorite, though our guide to some of the very best should put you straight. Just bear in mind that most hummisiyahs are simple, no-thrills, very busy little places…

The video below is one of the best hummus videos we’ve come across. It gives an excellent idea of what to expect…Bon Appetit!

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