For the past four months, legends of Abu Hassan’s hummus have haunted us. It was appealing after people claimed the restaurant had the best hummus in Tel Aviv. Its allure only grew when we heard that it had the best hummus in Israel. When we started to hear people say they had the best hummus ever, Doug and I almost started to get worried.
Let’s be practical here. Hummus is a chickpea paste, at its most basic. Consistency, seasoning, flavor, and texture vary widely and can certainly influence the quality of the hummus, but honestly, how notable can hummus get?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had good hummus and bad hummus, amazing hummus and forgettable hummus, warm hummus and cold hummus, homemade hummus and store-bought hummus, restaurant hummus and catering hummus. I’m very well aware that different national groups take incredible pride in their hummus-making (we won’t get into the origins of hummus, for the sake of avoiding what’s actually a heated debate).
So what is it that makes the best hummus? One Friday morning, Doug, a couple friends, and I took the short journey down to Yafo to find out.
For those interested in trying Abu Hassan, here are some tips:
- Go early. Apparently, the restaurant only makes a certain amount of hummus every day. Once they run out, they close shop.
- If there’s a long line at one of the Shivtei Israel Street branches, look across the street. The other branch may have a shorter line. For those who go to the Dolphin Street branch first, you can take a short walk to Shivtei Israel Street for what may ultimately be a shorter wait.
- If you’ve never been to Abu Hassan before and don’t know what to order, look around and check out what other people are eating. Odds are you’ll see something you like. Once you find your hummus-dish match, ask its lucky consumer what it is.
Unfortunately, we only followed the second of these tips. We didn’t get there very early for a variety of reasons, but it didn’t turn out to be a problem (we got hummus, after all!). We were panicked enough about the restaurant closing for lack of hummus that we took a cab, though. Despite all claims to the contrary, our driver was convinced that there was only one Abu Hassan and took us directly to the Dolphin Street branch. We stayed long enough to realize that the mass of people overtaking the storefront formed anything but a line—it was simply chaos. It looked like the New York Stock Exchange does in the movies: people yelling while waving their arms around with pieces of paper in hand (money, probably), men running around determinedly (the workers, of course), everyone looking like they’re the most important person in the world with the most significant purpose imaginable (cause eating hummus is obviously an urgent matter).
Needless to say, we thought checking out the other branches wouldn’t be a terrible idea. So we walked along Yehuda Hayamit Street until we hit Shivtei Israel. From there, it wasn’t hard to figure out where Abu Hassan was. Two lines, one on each side of the street, marked the restaurant branches’ locations. Luckily, these were actually lines rather than hungry, jumbled masses. We hopped into one and waited, nervously crossing our fingers and hoping Abu Hassan (or whoever actually makes the renown hummus) made enough hummus for the day that we would get our share.
As we waited, we tried to figure out how the line and seating worked. Every so often, people arbitrarily (or so it seemed) walked in and sat down. Turns out it is self-seating, in a way. The dining area has communal seating—essentially, there are just a bunch of tables with various numbers of chairs that anyone can sit at. When seats open up, people just seat themselves. When there aren’t enough seats for the next group of people in line and there’s a lag in self-seating, an employee will usually come up and yell out the available number of seats—whoever responds first sits.
So after waiting for about twenty minutes, we finally saw an opening at a table where all of us could sit together. We sat down and our friend, still afraid that they might run out of hummus before we got our dishes, immediately ordered four hummus masabacha. While I wish I had the opportunity to pick what type of hummus I ordered (if only to know what other hummus dishes they had for future visits), I certainly didn’t mind eating the hummus masabacha.
Our meals arrived—four bowls of warm hummus with four little bowls filled with a green-tinted oil-based relish of sorts. Seeing as I’d never tried hummus masabacha before (heck, I’d never even heard of it), I wasn’t entirely sure how I was supposed to eat my dish. Our friend knowledgably poured the liquid in the bowl over his hummus, so we followed suit. Mind you, I don’t think it was the right way to eat the dish. Despite this, the hummus was amazing.
I’m not sure if it was the warm hummus with whole, tender chickpeas that just melted in my mouth or the delicious lemony tang from the relish, but the hummus was truly fantastic. It was surprisingly liquidy, but I attribute this partly to our misuse of the relish. Even so, I couldn’t get enough. I’m not sure what exactly it was, but there was some unknown spice in the hummus that really, truly set it apart. After much discussion, we decided it had to be cocaine. Nothing else could possibly be so euphorically delicious without a distinct, identifiable flavor.
My only other theory as to how Abu Hassan’s hummus can be so notably delicious? Well, after a panicked cab ride to Yafo, a rushed walk to Shivtei Israel Street, and an edgy twenty-minute wait, any hummus is bound to taste fantastic.
And the hard boiled-egg (read: cherry) on top of it all? It only costs 16 shekels a dish. The hummus and the prices just can’t get any better.