I love hummus. It’s so easy to make, and can be super healthy. It’s the first (and one of the few things) that my sister and I make from scratch, plate, (and eat) on our very own at home. We love adding things to our hummus at home like hot sauces, red pepper, both raw and cooked, flat leaf parsley, dill, spinach, and more, to keep it fun, colourful, and interesting! So, when we booked our family trip to Israel, we were planned on eating a lot of hummus, since it’s clean food, nourishing, protein packed and what the locals eat. What we weren’t prepared for was to actually miss it after returning home – since we were eating it every day, sometimes for breakfast, lunch and dinner! The hummus in Israel is so good, that it makes want to return, even just for that reason!
Throughout our trip, we tried so many different kinds of hummus, and, although none were fancy, and they each came with many different sides and toppings (rather than being blended into the hummus like we do at home). Our guide, Avishai (amazing guy!), explained how every area of Israel has a different style and way of preparing hummus, and they all think theirs is the best, and he guided us to try as many as we could. The following are my top spots that I would recommend to anyone and everyone!
ABU HASSAN: Our first true Israeli hummus experience was from Jaffa. Avishai picked it up from his favourite hummus place in his own neighbourhood for us to enjoy on one of our day trips for a picnic right after a great archaeological dig. I was unsure at the time if hummus could actually be a full lunch and not just an appetizer or dip, but my attitude quickly changed as we dug into our own little bowls of hummus with plenty of tahini, olive oil and a drizzle of green hot pepper sauce. We enjoyed a great house-baked, whole-grain bread as well as fluffy amazing pita! Normally we don’t eat white flour, but when in Israel, we had to eat like locals – and when we did, oddly enough, none of us felt sick and it encouraged us to eat more!
HUMUS AUSOL: The hummus we had next from Rosh Pina (such a beautiful area in the north of Israel), was “dirtier” in comparison, not because it wasn’t clean, but because it was mixed with more ingredients, like parsley and was a bit pastier, too. Avishai taught me that term for describing hummus, so I guess it’s legit! It was also delicious, and the toppings were very strong and concentrated – the hot sauce was super spicy, so we used it more sparingly. I do love spice, and it’s great how everywhere in Israel seems to serve the sauces and spices on the side so you can add at your own discretion. I did think that this hummus could have used a lot more acid, because I like my hummus with lots of lemon juice (or apple cider vinegar). The sides of pickled beets and pickled cauliflower were enjoyed by my mother, father, and sister, but aren’t my thing!
ABU RAME: Up in the Golan Heights, we enjoyed a hummus that was similar to the one from Rosh Pinna, but was topped with whole chickpeas, chopped parsley and a puddle of really great tasting olive oil! Guy and Nir, the owners of the tour company we used (Puzzle Israel) picked this up from their hometown favourite spot, wanting to share lunch with us before we took a nerve-wracking jeep ride up to the Syrian border alongside landmines! We ate the hummus in a picnic area all together, “Bedouin-style”, which just means ripping pieces of pita and collecting hummus in them and eating it. No plates, no napkins (so no waste from them!), and no double dipping! I think our family picnics should include this style of eating from now on. The hot sauce was a chopped tomato and red-hot pepper blend and was the favourite sauce of the trip (with one exception by me, as you will see directly below). The sides of pickles, fried eggplant and olives were amazing, very plentiful and a bright selection. Sometimes simple food with variety of texture, flavour, and colour makes for the best meal you can eat.
BEN SIRA: When we arrived in Jerusalem, we were really hungry, and eating out with our food “rules” can be challenging. We have to take my sister’s nut allergy into consideration, and want to enjoy eating clean food, too. Avishai, our hummus know-it-all and hebrew translator, took us to his favourite hummus place in Jerusalem, called Ben Sira. Let’s just state it here and now: Avishai has really great taste, if I do say so myself. It’s at times like these, where I wish I could teleport myself back to Israel and eat more Ben Sira, since while writing this part of my post is challenging, as my mouth is watering just recalling every bite of the Mushroom Hummus Pita I enjoyed (4 times in our 4 day stay, and they were only open 3 of the days we were there). Let me describe the Mushroom Hummus Pita, so if you go here, you’ll know what to order: it starts with them opening a pita with an exacto-knife in the most precise manner, but super fast, then they spread a huge glob of fresh, warm hummus straight from the cooking pot into the fresh, fluffy pita. Next, they pile hot and steaming mushrooms from another pot on the stove (it’s an open kitchen, which I love too!). Now, they zip over to the salad bar-like area of their open kitchen counter where you get to request anything they offer to be put inside the pita – from diced cucumbers, tomatoes, pickles, olives, cabbage, hot sauce, onions and parsley, and of course, tahini! I piled most of that in (except cukes and tomatoes) and got extra pickles on the side too, as they were spicy and great. The first night we went here to eat, I was so enamored by the taste, that I got two pitas, plus falafel balls (also great), extra pickles and some of my brother’s fava bean hummus (also fantastic). I can admit that I was uncomfortably full for an hour or so, but it was really worth it, in my opinion. My mother loved her salad and the hummus that came in bowls was delicious as well! I would also like to award Ben Sira extra points for being the most efficient restaurant we went to. They are fast, friendly and everything is super fresh. Once you see how quickly they put all of this goodness into a pita, you wonder why that doesn’t happen elsewhere! Hello Toronto?
ACERMAUY: It is not easy finding a good place to eat on Shabbat in Jerusalem. There are many American-like restaurants open, but those usually serve lots of what we don’t eat. Luckily, Avishai once again knew exactly where to go. Early in the morning, on our way to hike Masada, we stopped quickly at this place in East Jerusalem, to pick up some hummus to add to what we had purchased at the market the day before, for a picnic down by the Dead Sea. This hummus was really good, and again was “dirtier”. We polished off two huge containers. That climb up Masada made me hungry. Side note: fresh persimmon is my sister’s chosen pairing with every hummus meal – and every other meal in Israel, for that matter!
HAMARAKIA: As Shabbat ended on Saturday evening, all of the restaurants came back alive from being closed down for 24 hours in Jerusalem. Behind this metal garage door covered with graffiti, appeared this very casual and funky little vegetarian/vegan soup restaurant with mismatched chairs, couches and tables. Even though they are known for their soups (which are incredible and worth going to this spot for alone – we all loved them!), we had to try their hummus, too. It was ok, fresh and smooth with a smattering of soft chickpeas on top, but all I could think about was Ben Sira, which was only a couple blocks away. Hamarakia, ended up only being my appetizer hummus, or maybe Ben Sira was my dessert hummus! Needless to say, I enjoyed every single bite of that Mushroom Hummus Pita. I have a smile on my face right now just recalling its awesmazingness.
HA’AGAS 1: Ha’agas in Machane Yehuda, the shuk (Market) in Jerusalem claims to have the best hummus in Jerusalem, but I disagree. It is a health food restaurant, and vegetarian, and the food was excellent, and mostly gluten-free too, but the hummus is only great, just not the best! Bonus points go to this little but bustling spot for having whole wheat pita and generous toppings and sides for the hummus. Also, they probably topped their hummus with the most olive oil of all of the places. This is a good thing, by the way! We enjoyed shakshuka and I had tofu steaks that were delicious. We all were introduced to vegetarian Kube, a ball of millet and traditional spices in cornmeal, with a side of green tahini for dipping. I would recommend trying these if you go. Side note: after visiting here, or before, you must go and try to meet The Etrog Man, right around the corner, who is the happiest seeming guy serving up lots of healthy, organic goodness, from juices and medicines to crazy laughs! My mom loved this place and had a great Kombucha, helping to digest from all of the hummus we had just eaten!
LINA RESTAURANT: In the old city of Jerusalem there are 4 quarters – Arab, Armenian, Jewish, and Christian. We toured them all during our stay, and on our last day there, Avishai took us to a hummus place on the Via Dolorosa that he thought we needed to try. Again, it was great, and authentic/not touristy at all. We ate at their original location, although they have opened a newer, bigger one right across the narrow street. Also, like most of these hummus “joints”, the service is SO fast, but the food is SO fresh tasting. We also enjoyed fuul, a purée of smashed fava beans as well as a warm hummus dish smothered with tahini that my mom adored (sorry I forget what it was called)! The Arab Salad with parsley and lemon juice was my sister’s favourite. Again, I loved this lunch, and you will too, but was focused on our walk back to the hotel to checkout as we would be passing by Ben Sira for “dessert”.
In addition to hummus, there was some debate over which Sabich is best in Tel Aviv, which I guess I might write another post about! I will be posting other restaurant reviews from my incredible adventures in Israel, including some of the organic farms that we visited and even ate at.
There are plenty of awesmazing places to eat in Israel, if you are vegan, vegetarian, have allergies or just want to eat good, clean food, like the locals do, just make sure you plan ahead or take Avishai along for your journey!
Bottom line: Ben Sira wins by a hummus-slide!