Hummus Gan Eden
★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Not Kosher, Vegetarian
46 Yona Ha’Navi
From the outside, Hummus Gan Eden looks like any other hummus joint in Tel Aviv: non-notable furniture, vinyl tablecloths, a small outdoor seating area, and a Coca-Cola refrigerator for drinks. But just one look at the menu, which lists Special Hummus Darfur (consisting of egg, ful, tahini, tomato, and chickpeas) and Special Ful Darfur (egg, grated cheese, tomato, chickpeas, and onion), makes it clear that this isn’t a typical Israeli hummus restaurant.
Hummus Gan Eden was opened in December 2009 by three Sudanese refugees, Adam, Hassan, and Muhi. They each fled war-torn Darfur in the 2000s, making their way to Israel through Egypt.
More than five million people have been affected by the violent conflict that has overtaken Sudan since 2003. Millions of people have been displaced and approximately 400,000 people have died as the Janjaweed, with the assistance and aid of the Sudanese government, fight against rebel guerrillas. Genocide is ongoing in racially mixed Darfur, which is home to African peasant farmers and nomadic Arab herders; the Janjaweed are persecuting, displacing, and murdering African farmers and others in the region. Many Darfurians have lost family and friends and have been forced to leave their nation. Homes have been torn asunder as millions have become refugees in foreign lands.
In 2007, Hassan left his hometown after the Janjaweed raided the area, burning houses and shooting people. He survived the raid by hiding with his two brothers, but unfortunately his parents were killed during the raid. He fled to Khartoum and then Cairo before making it to Israel with a group of Darfurian refugees.
Muhi, who also fled Darfur after an attack on his village that led to his brother’s death, lived in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum until government agents began searching for Darfurians on the run. He moved to Egypt with his wife and lived in Cairo for 18 months before determining to make the journey to Israel on his own; he and his wife decided that she would join him later if he survived the journey. He now lives in Tel Aviv with his wife and two children.
Adam, meanwhile, left Darfur after a Janjaweed attack destroyed his village. His family escaped to neighboring Chad while he fled to Egypt alone, where he lived for two years. Circumstances were difficult there, he said, and Sudanese refugees were not welcome. He left after Egyptian soldiers killed a number of Darfurian refugees. After running from Arab country to Arab country, he said, he decided to go to the Jewish country of Israel to seek safety. He knew close to nothing about Israel but had heard a lot of negative things. He expected to find warfare and fighting in Israel but found nothing of the sort. Instead, upon his arrival in 2007, he found people who were helpful and caring. He worked at a hotel in Eilat for a year before moving to Tel Aviv, where he worked full-time at a metal factory in Azur before opening Hummus Gan Eden with Hassan and Muhi. While at first he continued to work full-time at the metal factory and only helped at the restaurant on Fridays and Saturdays, he currently only works the restaurant’s evening shift, spending his mornings in Ulpan. One of his partners, Hassan, spends his mornings at the restaurant before heading to English classes.
“I am Israeli,” Adam says. While he knew nothing of Israeli culture or history and knew no Hebrew upon his arrival, he now feels comfortable in Israel. But, he clarified, he would never forget his past and would gladly return to Darfur when there is peace.
The combination of an Israeli present and the recollections of a Darfurian past can be seen in the food at Hummus Gan Eden. The Special Hummus Darfur combines Israeli hummus and tahini with classic Darfurian ful and cooked, tender chickpeas. In Darfur, Adam explains, they eat cooked chickpeas during Ramadan as they’re healthy and provide much-needed energy and nutrition. They also eat ful (mashed fava beans) like Israelis eat hummus. Not only is it a divine combination, including a hard-boiled egg and some fresh tomato, but each element also stands wonderfully on its own. The hummus has a perfect texture—not too creamy and not too chunky—and is served warm with paprika sprinkled over it and olive oil drizzled on top. The ful, meanwhile, is amazing. It has a gentle, soft flavor and is both well seasoned and textured. I almost wished I had a whole plateful of it.
Luckily, I had a plateful of something else that was delicious: Hummus Shakshuka. Traditionally, shakshuka is a dish comprised of an egg poached in a spiced tomato sauce. Hummus Gan Eden’s version, however, was a little different. Rather than poach the egg, it was scrambled into the tomato sauce. I don’t know whether that made the dish that much tastier than its poached counterpart or if it was the combination of sweet paprika and warming, earthy cumin with the refreshingly garlic undertone that did it.
I was hooked. The only thing that was missing from the meal? Darfur-Style Eggplant. The restaurant’s eggplant dish is so good that they were out of it when I visited!
As I wiped my plates clean with a fluffy, warm pita, I finally allowed my eyes the opportunity to wander away from my food. I was in the smaller seating area in the back of the restaurant, which, with red brick accents and an inset floral painting on one wall, had a homier and more intimate feel to it than the front space. The overall feel of the restaurant is very relaxed, even understated. Ultimately, the restaurant’s appearance is rather unremarkable. The story of the restaurant’s three owners, however, who fled their homelands and now found themselves preparing Israeli-style hummus with a Darfurian twist in a country they knew nothing about only a decade ago, is nothing short of remarkable.