If it’s not already clear, there’s really no way to overstate the importance of hummus in Israel—it is eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Not, I should add, like Americans tend to eat it, as a friendly side condiment to some vegetables or bread or as a nice appetizer to a more substantial-sounding meal. In Israel, hummus is the meal. At Humus Habait, it comes out in a large round bowl, swirled up and onto the edges, drizzled with fresh olive oil, sprinkled with Moroccan paprika and freshly-ground cumin, topped with whole chickpeas and a boiled egg. This dish, the “hummus of the house,” is the one most people order when they come, a simple, predictable, and delicious feast. The hummus with shakshuka and the hummus with mushrooms are also popular dishes, but nothing—not even the “hummus of the house”—beats a solid bowl of plain hummus, served simply with a drizzle of oil on top.
“Hummus is also very flexible,” Haim tells me, wiping his sweaty brow with his sleeve. “You can eat it for any meal—start for breakfast, keep going for lunch, and have some more for dinner. It keeps you full longer and is so healthy, especially if you only eat half a pita.” Then, he smirks and smiles widely. “But who only eats half a pita?!”
“Hummus is also amazing for four more reasons,” he continues. “First, it’s really easy to make. Second, it’s very healthy. Third, it’s easy for vegans to eat, and let’s face it, there are a lot of vegans coming to Israel these days. And four, it relaxes you.”
Is it the methodical scooping of blended chickpea onto warm, fluffy pita? Is it the process of drizzling the olive oil on top in a tight swirl? What could possibly be relaxing about hummus?
“Well, that’s easy,” Haim says, his plump, reddened cheeks almost seeming to glow in the early October sunlight. The tables seem to turn in this moment, as if Haim feels guilty that he’s about to admit that he never intended to be a chef. His real dream, he says, is to blend his passion for helping children and his unexpected talent for making the smoothest, creamiest hummus most customers have ever tasted into a new kind of kitchen therapy.
“I want to bring the kids into my kitchen,” he says. “Kids with ADHD are so sensitive and they need small tasks that require a lot of coordination and concentration. Why not make hummus?”
Haim hopes, in the next few years, to start an after-school program to take kids around to local kitchens and help them channel their anxiety through the art and act of cooking. Though he admits it’s still a dream, he believes that teaching kids to cook is better than any other kind of exercise or massage therapy.
Before we leave, I realize I’ve nearly forgotten: What makes Haim’s hummus only the second-best in Israel?
He looks up from the cash register and grins. “It’s easy,” he says. “The best hummus in the world is the first hummus you ever try.”
Special thanks to Weill and the Israel Ministry of Tourism for hosting my recent stay in Israel. Lunch, however, was bought by the author of this article and all opinions are, of course, her own. If you read Hebrew, check out The House of Hummus’ website for more information.