The top five hummus joints in JerusalemOnly in the Middle East could the lowly chickpea (even the name is demeaning) be elevated to the status of King of All Legumes. While pop culture, most notably You Don't Mess with the Zohan, may riff on Israelis' love affair with hummus, the regionally beloved chickpea, tehina, garlic and lemon puree, at the heart of the jokes lies a chickpea of truth: Israelis simply cannot get enough.
Only in the Middle East could the lowly chickpea (even the name is demeaning) be elevated to the status of King of All Legumes. While pop culture, most notably You Don't Mess with the Zohan, may riff on Israelis' love affair with hummus, the regionally beloved chickpea, tehina, garlic and lemon puree, at the heart of the jokes lies a chickpea of truth: Israelis simply cannot get enough.
In Jerusalem, natives and tourists alike can forgo the pallid store-bought facsimile in favor of the genuine article by heading to one of dozens of hummus bars, also called hummusiyot (or hummusiya in the singular). Whether served chunky or creamy, unadorned or topped with zhoug, fuul, warm chickpeas, spiced meat, hard-boiled egg or a deep pool of fruity olive oil, a trip to one of these hummus bars will ensure that you never again in your life utter the words "hummus dip," or regard it as even mildly appropriate to approach a dish of hummus with carrot sticks or pita triangles in hand (no, seriously, never do that, please). Here are our top five hummus bars around Jerusalem - more than an enough to qualify you as a newly-minted hummus connoisseur.
In Jerusalem's Old City, you need look no further than this tiny family-owned joint in the Muslim Quarter. The Abu Shukri clan, known throughout the region as the ultimate arbiters of Arab-style hummus, have spent generations perfecting a hummus so beloved that even the dark days of the intifada couldn't keep away the throngs of Jewish and Arab hummus lovers. Don't ask for a menu here, they don't have them. But no matter, the choices are simple: hummus, hummus and more hummus, served Arab-style, which is to say swimming in olive oil, and topped with tehina or pine nuts, a Jerusalem hummus specialty. The falafel is a worthy accompaniment.
Abu Shukri isn't the only star of the Old City. Lina, nearby in the Christian Quarter (pictured), has weathered many decades as the only Old City hummusiya besides Abu Shukri worth its chickpeas. Lina is a purist's paradise: it serves one thing and one thing only, hummus. If a restaurant features only one dish and lies mere steps away from the fiercest competition in the region, you can rest assured the product will live up to expectations. The place can fill up at lunchtime, but hummusiya owners do not suffer dawdlers; wait a few seconds and a table will surely open up.
Ta'ami, the best hummusiya in west Jerusalem (and possibly all Jerusalem), commands a fiercely loyal cadre of chickpea cognoscenti - and an endless stream of tough Israeli workingmen and union types, who have reigned over Ta'ami's limited lunchtime seating since the 1950s, when the tiny restaurant was founded by Bulgarian immigrants. Ta'ami boasts a surprisingly perse menu, brimming with Israeli soul food favorites from goulash to lentil soup, but while everything is admirably executed, one would be a fool not to eat the hummus. Warm and creamy, topped with chickpeas and your choice of fuul, spiced beef, hard-boiled egg or some of the city's finest falafel balls, crisp, moist and verdantly green, this is perfection in a shallow dish. Just don't eat slowly, and don't stick around to pick your teeth - you will get yelled at (and you will deserve it). You can also order some to bring home, but true hummus is an ephemeral thing - to paraphrase Bernard DeVoto, who was speaking on the martini, "the proper union of hummus and tehina is a great and sudden glory; it is one of the happiest marriages on earth, and one of the shortest-lived. The fragile tie of ecstasy is broken in a few minutes, and thereafter there can be no remarriage."
Those who don't count Ta'ami as among their favorite hummus bars are probably partisans for blood rival Pinati, also headquartered in the city center. The hummus and Middle Eastern dishes here have become so popular that the brand has expanded from its humble roots to become a chain with branches all over the Jerusalem as well as in exurbs Beit Shemesh and Modi'in. Street cred aside, there's a reason people flock to Pinati, and it's not the ambience. The rich hummus comes topped with a number of choices and there's plenty more than that on the menu, too.
Around the Machane Yehuda shuk, a heavily Kurdish area of town, restaurants tend to specialize in Middle Eastern grandma food, rib-sticking specialties from kubbeh to calf's foot soup. So it goes with Rachmo, a restaurant that has stood in the same location at the foot of Ha-Eshkol Street since the 1930s. Rachmo offers an array of local delicacies, including a noteworthy orez ve-she'u'it (rice and beans) and an impressive lineup of memula'im (stuffed vegetables), but the hummus is what's kept the regulars coming back for over seventy years. It's not the best hummus in Jerusalem, but atmosphere counts for a lot: the walls are lined with the requisite antique cooking implements and age-yellowed portraits of Sephardi holy men. There's a less authentic location on Yoel Salomon street now as well, for those not looking to venture into the shuk.
Once you've wiped your way down to the last morsel at the best hummusiyot in Jerusalem, you will be ready for the advanced seminar. An easy drive (or bus ride) west will take you to Abu Ghosh, an Arab village in the Judean foothills. Noted for its consistently peaceful relations with its Jewish neighbors, Abu Ghosh is home to another branch of the famous hummus-slinging Abu Shukri clan - a branch that has devolved into a curious chickpea-based reinterpretation of the Hatfields and McCoys. Once, there was one Abu Shukri restaurant atop one of Abu Ghosh's many hills, serving what was widely regarded as the finest hummus in Israel, but a family dispute led a cousin to splinter off and open his own Abu Shukri hummusiya - featuring the exact same recipe and the exact same menu, and, most deliciously, located directly across the street from the original. Amusingly, both Abu Shukri hummusiyot feature signs proclaiming themselves "The Original Abu Shukri," and both hire village boys to act as barkers, hustling in the droves of hummus tourists and keeping them away from the competition. For all intents and purposes, both Original Abu Shukris are interchangeable, so go to wherever you can secure a table. Once you taste the hummus, you'll see why it's worth fighting for.
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