טוביה ארז, הנדסה אזרחית בע"מ, ניהול, תאום ופיקוח | Hummus

Hummus

A few days after my wife and I relocated to the quiet community of Kfar Vradim (“Village of Roses”) from the nearby bustling town of Naharia, our son came over to visit. “Nice” he concluded briefly after completing a quick tour of the small house and the weed-covered garden. “But even more important,” he continued, “is the surrounding area, and the marking of our territory.” I suddenly envisioned my family moving from place to place, marking our boundaries as wild animals do. “It might be a bit impolite to walk through the village’s streets and squirt on every public bush, don’t you think?” I suggested. “You and your wild imagination,” said my son, “I meant - let's go and scan the surrounding area for the best place to eat hummus.”

During my childhood days in old, small Tel-Aviv, hummus was not considered food. ‘Food’ consisted of home-cooked meals, prepared in the Greek and Viennese traditions - cuisines brought by Mom and Dad from their respective countries of origin. Sometimes, in an attempt to sample the local diet, my mother would buy a sealed tub of factory prepared hummus from the grocery store. The contents resembled a thick, viscous paste that we would then spread on our toasts instead of the usual margarine.

Then Dad bought his first car. Every spring weekend, the entire family, including the aunt, uncle, and cousins, squeezed into his small car and embarked on a road-trip across the country. Our preferred destination was north, where rolling green hills were sprinkled with quiet and small towns and villages. Dad loved to travel to places he visited as a young man, and tell us what he did there. “In Rosh Pina,” he said, “I was sent upon immigrating to Israel to join the local labor battalion. And in the area of Golani Junction,” he pointed, “I fought in the war of independence against the Kozaki ‘Salvation Army’.”

The pinnacle of every trip was lunch. Each time we stopped at a different Arab village along the way to dine at the local middle-eastern restaurant. These were my first encounters with a hummus of a different kind. Hummus was always served as an appetizer, and it was usually presented warm, sprinkled with cooked hummus beans, and flooded with olive oil. This was also our introduction to the method of hummus eating, known as ‘wiping.’ To ‘wipe,’ you would tear a small piece of pita bread, and use it to gather a portion of the hummus off the plate and deliver it to your mouth. Usually, the children competed to see who could use the largest number of pita breads to wipe a plate of hummus clean. Gradually, we grew accustomed to the special taste of real hummus, until it found a place of honor on our delicate palates.

The family completed its doctorate studies in ‘hummus sciences’ when my wife and I moved to the northern town of Nahariya. Here, surrounded by an abundance of middle-eastern restaurants, we became obsessed with finding the ‘ultimate hummus.’ We started our search by scanning our new city by foot, sampling local eateries such as Abu-Rame near the train station and Dani restaurant near the city center. Gradually, our exploration expended to restaurants in neighboring towns and Arab villages, among them Abu Fawzi in the village of Cfar Yasif, and numerous hummus joints in Acu, including Sa’id - known locally as the ‘king of Hummus.’ Eventually, we were able to map out the best hummus eateries in the triangular area between Nahariya, Acu, and Cfar-Yassif. Each of our restaurant visits included a careful examination and analysis of the evidence. Was this a restaurant where hummus was but one of many items served? Or did this restaurant sell only hummus, preparing a large pot of it in the morning, and closing the store once it was sold out, typically after lunch? As our hummus expertise increased, so was the sophistication of our “wiping” technique. Instead of competing to see who uses the largest number of pitas to wipe clean a plate of hummus, the winner would be the one who could keep the number of pitas to a minimum. We also discovered that hummus could be eaten with a fork (to reduce caloric intake, and the subsequent increase in body weight).

Back in our new house in Cfar Vradim, my son and I pulled out a map of the area. We located the coordinates of our home, and from there we began marking concentric circles, outlining our searchable territory. It was clear that this region must include neighboring Arab villages, as every Israeli child knows that Jews cannot make as good a hummus as Arabs. Armed with our map, we got in our car and drove to the adjacent Arab village of Tarshiha, where we began scanning the local streets for eateries. Then, in one of the alleys, we noticed it. At the entrance to private home’s garage, someone erected a glass wall with a door, and on was written a single word - “hummus.” We parked our car and entered. The space was small - as one should expect from a good hummus eatery – only four-five tables. At the back of the room stood a large stainless steel counter, and on it rested two steaming pots. I made my way to that counter, and as was my custom at the time, lifted the lid of each pot to examine the content. Inside one pot simmered soft chickpeas, and in the other – fava beans. We sat at a table and ordered a serving of hummus. The owner, also known as “The Uncle,” was our server. As soon as we placed the first bite of hummus in our mouths, the unique, mildly sour flavor flooded our senses. We instantly knew that our search for the best local hummus has ended. Our territory was marked.

Now a year later, I parked my car across the same hummus joint. Immediately, I noticed that something had changed. On the glass door, the sign announced “Ataf’s Hummusia” (Hummusia is a hummus eatery). Something was different inside as well. Instead of “The Uncle” who always welcomed me, stood an unfamiliar man. “Hello,” I said, “where is The Uncle?” “Unfortunately,” said the man, “he passed away. My name is Ataf. My uncle left me his restaurant.” “And the hummus?” I anxiously asked. “Don’t worry,” said Ataf with a big smile, “before his death, The Uncle gave me his secret recipe. The hummus I am serving now is identical to what my uncle used to make.” I had a little taste, and I relaxed.

A week later, some friends from Cfar Vradim called me. “A new Hummusia has just opened in Tarshiha, near the building that belonged to the man who passed away. Let’s go and have a taste.” We did. On the door of the new restaurant hung a large sign “The Uncle Elha’yat.” We entered and sat down. “Did you know,” I asked the owner who welcomed us, “that on the street above you there is another Hummusia whose owner passed away not too long ago? Apparently, that owner gave his secret hummus recipe to his nephew.” The owner’s face became red with anger. “The nerve!” he exclaimed. “The man who passed away was MY uncle. I AM his nephew, and he gave ME the secret family hummus recipe. Here,” he said, “taste and judge for yourselves!” We did. Afterwards, my friends were grinning. “Here the hummus is better,” they unanimously concluded. “Excellent hummus,” I replied, “but Ataf’s hummus is still better.” The tension in the restaurant suddenly increased to palpable levels, as each of us secretly reached for a weapon, in this case – a warm pita brushed with olive oil. I was well aware that this was a delicate matter. Who was the true recipient of The Uncle’s secret recipe? I know of families who split because of hummus-related disagreements, and friends who had not spoken in years due to differing opinions regarding this highly important and charged subject. Suddenly, I knew what had to be done. I called my son – the family’s hummus expert.

My son rushed over from Tel-Aviv that same weekend. On Friday, we went to eat hummus at one nephew’s restaurant, and on Saturday, we went to eat at the other’s. In each location, my son ate slowly, spreading the hummus on his lips, rolling it on his tongue, and carefully letting it slide down his throat. Tensely, we awaited his verdict. Which hummus is better? Which one resulted from the original recipe? Finally, he spoke. “Hummus is important, but so are your friends.” “What are you saying, exactly?” I asked nervously. “Well, when you go out to eat with the family, take us to Ataf. But if you go out with your friends, take them to Elha’yat – their preferred place.” Smart kid. I wonder where he got that form.

Tuvia Erez
Construction engineer and a member of the Green movement of Cfar Vradim
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Response of the friends from Cfar Vradim:
The Author's feeble attempt to conceal his poor understanding in hummus flavors will not help him. The facts (or flavors) speak for themselves!