If you have never spent any significant amount of time in Israel, you probably won’t be aware just how contentious an issue hummus is. However, when you arrive for your gap year program in Israel you will soon realise that Israelis can discuss this supposedly simple food for hours on end. It is even fair to say that it is a bit of a national obsession.
Those outside of Israel may struggle to understand what the big deal is, after all, isn’t hummus essentially chickpea paste?
The truth is a bit more complicated than this. While hummus is made from cooked and mashed chickpeas, each maker of the dish will have blended it with a variety of other ingredients. They will nearly always use tahini, olive oil, lemon, salt and garlic, but often there will be a number of other ingredients as well.
While it is known that the Ancient Egyptians used chickpeas in their cooking, it is thought that mashing them into a paste only began as recently as the 13th century. In those days, hummus was also made with pickled lemons and vinegar. However, the first written account of hummus is a 19th century text that came from Damascus.
Once you have realised that hummus is going to play a major part in your gap year you will start looking for the best places to eat it. If you ask a group of Israelis where to get the best hummus, a heated argument is inevitable. However, you have plenty of time so there is no reason you can’t try a number of different places.
Unfortunately, it gets yet more complicated. You will discover that there are numerous different ways of eating hummus and this can also provoke a long discussion.
When you go to a hummus place and order a plate it will most likely be served with some pita bread, chopped tomatoes, raw onion, pickles and possibly some falafel. One thing that foreigners are often reluctant to try at first is raw onion dipped in hummus, while you may not have the freshest breath afterwards it is certainly worth it!
Whatever your take on the vegetables, the basic idea is to tear off a bit of pita bread and use it to scoop up the hummus. If you are eating with Israelis then they will no doubt have a few tips and trips (which they will present as unbreakable laws).
The good news is, fresh handmade hummus is extremely healthy. Not only is it vegan/vegetarian friendly, but it is full of things such as Omega 3, and vitamins C and B6. On average there are around 200 calories per 100g of hummus, which may sound like a lot. However, it is very filling and most people can’t actually eat that much of it.
You will find that almost every time you order food you are offered hummus to go with it, but this is not quite the same as going out to eat hummus. In short, if you don’t like hummus now, you better get used to it!