Follow the Hummus Highway through Israel for delicious – and fast – Middle Eastern dining. Read about the locals' favorite hummus haunts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Eilat and more
More popular than peanut butter! Healthier than hamburgers! More fun than tuna fish! Hummus (also known as hummos) is the fastest food of the Middle East. Its memory for untold millions of tourists, pilgrims, travelers and journalists who have tasted it, sung its praises, then missed it mightily back home, has lifted hummus to cult food status all over the world.
Fresh hummus is served everywhere in Israel. The fixed basic elements are cooked chickpeas pounded into a creamy paste, garlic and lemon juice. It’s the garnishes that vary: top off with some ful (whole cooked soft beans), pour on a little puddle of olive oil, toss on olives, add a mushroom, a pine nut, some paprika, a side salad of finely chopped onions, tomatoes and cukes, maybe a little zatar (Yemeni-style spice), a little pickle perhaps, a round of warm pita bread, et voila! The essential point is the pure, protein-rich chickpea — and nothing can beat it.
Often served as a dip in the diaspora, hummus and pita bread is Israel’s power breakfast (or lunch) and many of its shops close up by mid-afternoon.
All the Hebrew you need to know when ordering:
“eem ful” = with cooked beans on top
“bli shemen” = without oil
“eem falafel” = with falafel balls (ground deep-fried seasoned chickpeas)
“salatim” = small dishes of various salads, eggplant, olives, pickles, etc.
So off we go to map out some outstanding hummus havens en route around Israel.
Jerusalem Hummus Haunts
Starting in the heart and soul of the country, in the Old City of Jerusalem whose crenelated stone walls enclose the gold-capped Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Abu Shukri is, hands-down, the heart of hummus heaven. Conveniently located on the winding, bustling Via Dolorosa, near the Fifth Station of the Cross, their thick and dense hand-pounded hummus is ubiquitously adored. It is served with a side of fresh cabbage and tomato salad, a light falafel ball and chunky french fries (locally called “cheeps”). Open daily from 8am to 4:30pm.
Local color and history alert: Also in the Old City and just past the 8th Station on Al Khanka Street, Lina’s Hummus is almost equally hot. In addition to really good food served at small tables on two floors filled with happy locals, Lina’s is flanked by two Armenian photography shops that specialize in prints of antique Israel, turn-of- he-last century stuff like “Water Carriers at Work” and “Tilling the Fields” — excellent, ephemeral, mementos.
The center of Jerusalem hasn’t changed much in 25 years, and that’s about how long the city’s most favored hummus place has been around right near Ben Yehuda Street, the lively pedestrian mall lined with shops selling handmade jewelry, antiques, army surplus, souvenirs, T-shirts, foreign money, books, and lots of outdoor cafÃ©s.
For the fastest of the fast, the top stop is Ta’ami on Hillel Street. Their business is so booming that a bill is put under your nose in the midst of your last bite. Ready for coffee? Forget it. No coffee served. Closes daily around 4pm, and closed on Saturday.
Tel Aviv Hummus Haunts
Shlomo in Tel Aviv is on an alley off Rehov Ishkon in the busy old Yemenite Quarter. This is an utterly idiosyncratic and excellent hummus joint in a fascinating, not-yet-gentrified neighborhood. Be sure to leave time to stroll along the narrow streets lined with Arab-style homes in various stages of repair and disrepair. A couple of brown beans, chopped hard-boiled egg, a sprig of parsley, and a dollop of green chili sauce give his hummus an Egyptian twist.
In north Tel Aviv, the ‘L’ shaped area known as Basel is chock-a-block with upscale boutiques, and always-thronged outdoor coffee houses where yuppies of all stripes check out each other in the nonstop fashion parade. In keeping with the city that also never sleeps, Humus Basel on 20 Ashtorei HaParsi, is open from noon to midnight (closed on Saturday). The house specialty is hummus with warm ful (beans). Sit inside, outside on the street, or take it away.
Nazareth Hummus Haunts
The Church of the Annunciation sits splendidly in the center of hilltop Nazareth, surrounded by middle-eastern bustle on all sides. Right up close is the outdoor market overflowing with goods, produce, people, cars, buses, and overloaded trucks honking their way through the narrow streets. In the midst of all the daily din, a trio of hummus places await your midday pleasure.
The most famous is Al Sheikh plonked down right in front of the Church. Paul and Tufiq Zaid chop their famous chickpeas here and add nothing (except for an occasional foray into french fries) from 8am till about 1pm, when “they go home to sleep”. On Paulus VI Street (Nazareth’s main artery), opposite Super Pharm, is the big busy Diana (open all day) where hummus is featured with or without skewers of cubed lamb. Further north, opposite Mary’s Well, Jealjenalena (also known as Abu Maher) is open all day. A mean hummus is also served here, and grilled meat dishes as well.
Golan Hummus Haunts
When on the hummus trail way up north in the Golan Heights, look for an eatery called Birkhat Ram, not far from the Druse village of Mas’sada where shops offer wonderful local handicrafts. The Druse are one of Israel’s most intriguing minorities, a close-knit people whose religious tenets are known only to a small group in their close-knit community. You’ll see young people in jeans, older Druse men wearing white fez-like hats and women covering their hair with flowing white scarves. Birkhat Ram is right near one of Mother Nature’s most unusual natural phenomenon– a perfectly elliptical pool. Excellent hummus plus fresh salads and meat on skewers. Open 7 days a week.
Majdal Shams is another Druse village in the Golan, not far from Israel’s ski resort on the slopes of Mount Hermon, and mecca for hummus up north: Visit Abu Nidal Peace Restaurant, open 7 days a week, where home cooking and hummus of near legendary status are their trademarks.
Jaffa Hummus Haunts
Nearby Jaffa, one of the oldest ports in the world, is connected to Tel Aviv by a glorious beachside promenade that meanders along the Mediterranean Sea shore. There’s a fun flea market near the Clock Tower, a museum of 4,000 year old locally-excavated treasures, an artists’ quarter, and a picturesque port with real fishermen. Up the hill from the old port, at 1 Dolphin Street, look for AbuHassan’s Karavan which enjoys a world-class hummus rep from Paris to New York. No-frills hummus in pita bread – no added onions, “ful”, or spices. Join the ever-long line of hungry guys who dine seriously alfresco, setting up gorilla picnics on the roofs of their cars, on nearby stoops, or just leaning against adjacent walls.
Haifa Hummus Haunts
Founded over 100 years ago in the hills on the way to Haifa, its cobbled main street and narrow lanes suffuse the town of Zichron Ya’acov with a pioneering air. The Carmel Winery here put this small town on the map a long time ago. Less well-known but locally loved, however, is the delicious Yemenite-style hummus served at HaTemaniya shel Santo in a courtyard off the main street at number 52. Accompanied by a special soft pita and fresh salad. Closed Saturday.
Beersheba Hummus Haunts
Beersheba used to be a real one-camel town. Today, however, as the gateway to the Negev, Beersheba is home to plenty of camels, a magnificent university named after Founding Father David Ben-Gurion, a couple of hotels, a very contemporary wine bar, a Light Opera Company, plenty of palm trees and a thrillingly diverse international population of a quarter-million Israelis: Russians, Bedouin, Moroccans, Argentinians, Ethiopians, French, Brits, Germans, Sabras, Black Hebrews, Indians. To say nothing of the largest Albanian Jewish population in the world.
Beersheba also has, of course, one really famous hummus joint: Bulgarit, on “K.K. le Israel” Street, in the middle of the pedestrian mall. Framed by some old Turkish buildings from the Ottoman period, Itzek and his family’s restaurant has been loved by locals for the past 50 years. They pound it themselves and if you are there on a Saturday, you will also be treated to one of their paper thin pita breads. Closed Fridays.
Eliat Hummus Haunts
The bronze-bodied resort of Eilat, crammed with huge, dazzling hotels on the Red Sea caters more to appetites for ice-cream and icy frozen drinks in long-stemmed glasses. But if your heart’s set on hummus, grab a taxi and travel to the industrial area of the city for a taste treat. The driver will know the place. Everyone knows Shauli and Guy where two brothers and their dad serve up Algerian-Tripolitan food with style. Ask for hummus with mushrooms and their home-cut french fries. Closed Saturday daytime.
Suffering from separation anxiety as you prepare to depart from Israel? Dreading the polyester edibles to be served mid air? Already pining for one last hit of hummus? Even at the airport, not all is lost — remember hummus Achla, a surprisingly good little hummus that is sold in small plastic tubs, and perfect for portage aloft.
For further information on travel to Israel, visit the Israel Ministry of Tourism InfoCenter online or call 888/77-ISRAEL.
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