With all due respect to falafel and schnitzel, if we were to conduct a referendum to choose our national food, there’s no doubt that hummus would win, big time. But we’ve got to be truthful: We adopted it from our neighbors, and not all that long ago, either. The War of Independence in 1948 exposed many Israelis to the Arab kitchen for the first time, and hummus caught on because it went well with the prevailing austerity regime and offered a very filling meal for very little money.
Since then hummus has become a food eaten in a variety of ways. There are those who eat it only on Friday afternoons, those who only eat it on Shabbat, and those who eat it all the time. People eat it with pita, though some prefer to eat it without. Some have made it part of some very specific rituals; for example, they’ll only eat it while reading the sports pages or drinking grape juice; and there are those who will insist on specific spices or toppings.
When we set out to find the best hummus in Tel Aviv, as well as outside it, we discovered a whole new world: hummus made with recipes more secret than that of Coca-Cola, different methods of making it, and a variety of textures. What was most surprising that there are as many beloved hummus recipes as there are Israelis. While there is a general agreement that hummus is terrific, the consensus falls apart over the fine details: everyone has their own favorite hummus place.
So to find the top hummus joints, we tasted dozens of different versions, in Tel Aviv and elsewhere, and lived to tell the tale.
These are the five that came out on top:
The classic: The ‘triple’ at Ali Karavan (Abu Hassan)
There are two types of Jaffa hummus fans: Those who like Kalboni’s (which is certainly good hummus) and those who, like us, are fans of Ali Karavan, of whom there are many, as evidenced by the swarms of people crowding into the place on weekends or … well, anytime, actually. Karavan, who was also known as Abu Hassan, started out in 1959 with a small hummus stand with two pots on Hadolphin Street near the Jaffa port. By public demand, he then opened a real restaurant not far from Jerusalem Boulevard in 1972, which quickly became so overwhelmed that Karavan had to open another place directly across the street. In 2007, Ali Karavan passed away, leaving a glorious hummus legacy.
The winning plate: The triple, a portion of hummus, ful (fava beans) and masabacha, but what masabacha! Apparently legions of deliberating diners have decided what’s good for them – namely, everything. One can go for the plain hummus but the triple will help you appreciate the rare qualities that have made this place such a roaring success: warm hummus with a delicate, almost creamy texture and delicate masabacha made meticulously, full of the taste of tehina, garlic and lemon. The ful (fava beans) gives a deeper taste to the dish, and the whole thing is spiced with cumin, paprika, olive oil, and some hot pepper sauce on the side.
When it all tastes so good, who cares that you’re sharing your table with a crowd of staring strangers?
Bottom line: This is the only hummus worth waiting in line for.
Price: NIS 19
Comes with: Mostly lots of noise, but also with raw onion, hot pepper sauce and pitas on the side.
Ali Karavan/Abu Hassan – 14 Shivtei Yisrael Street, Jaffa
The cheapest: Masabacha at Hummus HaCarmel
One could wander around the Carmel Market for years and not notice this surprising hummus place. What makes it surprising? Its size, for one thing. We’re talking about two huge spaces that are hiding behind the crowds of stalls. Second is the price – this is the cheapest hummus in Tel Aviv. And finally, there’s the taste: This hummus is simple, made right and tasty. In short, a great place to visit if you get hungry while visiting the market, though it’s worth a special trip as well.
The winning plate: Masabacha. Every time you find something cheap you wonder about its quality, so this was a total surprise. There’s no fanfare or wait staff; you simply go to the counter and choose either hummus or masabacha, both at the same price. We got warm, thick masabacha that filled a big plate and that had the rich taste of raw tehina, numerous whole chick peas, a little very high quality olive oil and spices.
Bottom line: Amazingly tasty and proof that cheap doesn’t necessarily mean you have to compromise.
Price: NIS 10!
Comes with: You get two thick handmade pitas in a bag. At this price you wouldn’t think there’d be any side dishes but you get finely sliced pickles and hot sauce on the hummus plate. Mixing them all together probably makes it taste delicious. Hop on over!
Hummus HaCarmel – HaCarmel 11, Tel Aviv
The local place: Mashawsha at Mashawsha
There are a lot of nice hummus places downtown, but at Mashawsha you get more, starting with the neighborhood atmosphere and ending with hummus that from the outset declares itself to be exceptional. Mashawsha is the most popular hummus dish in the Arab villages of the Upper Galilee and its name means “uneven,” a reference to the hummus’ uneven texture.
The winning plate: Mashawsha, of course. One of the problems with hummus, as good as it might be, is that it sits heavily in your stomach afterward. But this mashawsha is exceptionally airy and light. It might have something to do with the preparation of the chick peas, which are pressed immediately after cooking and mixed with tehina, lemon juice and olive oil. We decided to enhance our portion with a bit of excellent tehina and a few more chick peas.
Bottom line: A delicate dish of hummus that one could easily eat a plate-and-a-half of. This is undoubtedly one of the best hummus places in the center of town.
Price: NIS 22 for mashawsha, NIS 2 for the additional tehina and chick peas
Comes with: This is one of the few places where you can order a whole-wheat pita. Aside from that, you get homemade pickled vegetables along with the place’s famous olives. On a good day you’ll get some very tasty pickled cabbage, which comes to the table with the preliminary salads. There’s also onion, but be sure not to miss the green hot sauce. It only looks innocent.
Mashawsha – 40 Pinsker Street, Tel Aviv
The secret: Chick Pea Hummus at Shlomo and Doron
The Kerem Hateimanim, or Yemenite Quarter neighborhood is heaven for hummus lovers of all kinds. Here in the Yemenite Quarter you can find a wide range of hummus, but the neighborhood hummus fans, like those of Jaffa, are divided into two: Those who love the hummus at Hummus Hasuri (it’s good, but…), and the fans of Shlomo and Doron, one of the area’s open secrets. It was opened by Shlomo in 1937, and his legacy is being carried on by his grandson, Doron. At mealtimes, the queue in front of the place wouldn’t embarrass any of the city’s hottest restaurants.
The winning plate: The chick-pea hummus. The proprietors will recommend that you go with the hummus and ful, but trust us – the chick-pea hummus doesn’t need ful or anything else. Take it straight, or if you want, in its masabacha form. You won’t be sorry.
This hummus has an incomparably delicate taste that seems in total contrast to its texture and thickness, and it comes with chick peas cooked “well-done.” For advanced hummus aficionados: Take the lemon wedge that comes on the side and give the plate a good squeeze. Those who prefer the masabacha will get it well-spiced with cumin, paprika, lemon and garlic.
Bottom line: The people of Kerem Hateimanim know what’s good for them.
Price: NIS 19 for a small plate, which is actually quite big.
Comes with: A queue of people and a plate with onion, lemon and hot sauces. The pitas are relatively standard, but when they come out warm you can’t stop eating them.
Shlomo and Doron – 29 Yashkon Street, Tel Aviv
The biggest: Hummus with Fava Beans at Hummus Assaf
Hummus Assaf has been at its current location on Hahashmonaim Street for two-and-a-half years now and there’s no doubt that this place constitutes a serious upgrade from its previous incarnations. The advantage here is the generous portions, the warm service, and most of all, the wide variety of items that one can add to the hummus (meat patties? How come we never thought of this before?). If you’ve had your fill of hummus there are alternatives here in the form of schnitzel and fish dishes, made by Assaf’s mother, that are not at all bad.
The winning plate: Hummus with ful and egg. When you eat a lot of hummus with ful and egg, which is a classic dish at any hummus place, there has to be something to make it stand out, and Assaf’s ful makes it look easy. The ful comes as a cooked dish (in a very generous amount) with lots of whole beans, and it’s lemony and rich in spices – a secret recipe that I couldn’t manage to pry out of them. The hummus itself was also a nice surprise; it was creamy and had an exceptional taste that wasn’t drowned out by the ful. The plate it’s served on was the largest we’d seen anywhere.
Bottom line: We came for the hummus, but stayed for another portion of ful.
Price: NIS 24
Comes with: Pretty standard pitas, but you get a lot of other treats – two types of hot sauce in one dish, cabbage salad, an excellent lemon sauce and falafel on the house.
Hummus Assaf – 88 Hahashmonaim Street, Tel Aviv
The best hummus outside Tel Aviv
Let’s forget about Tel Avivian hummus, shall we? If you want hummus the way Galilean hummus is meant to be, drive up to Acre and eat in one of the good hummus places there, especially at Sa’id’s. The hummus is great, not to mention the delicious mahluta that’s full of whole chick peas or the outstanding mashawsha. The disadvantage is the endless and almost hopeless lines, but the hummus makes up for it.
Hummus Sa’id, Old City Market, Acre
Abu Yussef, Haifa
It was a tough choice between Abu Yussef and Abu Maron, since both make incredible hummus, among the best in the country, and if we could choose two from here it would be these. In the end, after some tough arguments, Abu Yussef won by one vote. Why? Because of the hummus’ extraordinary smooth and delicate taste and texture, because we really loved the mahluta, and because on a good day there’s hummus with pine nuts and because the portions here are large and the pitas are addictive.
Abu Yussef, 29 Ziso Street, Haifa
Hummus Lina, Jerusalem
In Jerusalem alone we could make a list of 15 great places to eat hummus, so how could we choose only one without risking having our heads cut off or being talkbacked into oblivion? Well, we chose one, anyway.
In the alleys of the Old City’s Christian Quarter, one of the best hummus places in the city awaits you. This Jerusalem hummus stands out for its relatively low ratio of tehina in the mix, which gives you the opportunity to recall what authentic hummus tastes like. It’s worth a special trip.
Hummus Lina, 42 Akava El Hanakhah Street, Jerusalem’s Old City
Khalil is on this list because of its outstanding masabacha, which is the pride of Ramle. It’s made from a secret recipe, but the dominant taste testifies to lots of tehina and whole chick peas perfectly prepared, and the sauce gives the slightly sweetish masabacha a mildly tart-sharp flavor. There are also skewered meats and other dishes for those who need them. In our opinion, it pays to focus on the main event.
Hummus Khalil, 6 Kehillat Detroit Street, Ramle
Hummus Mashani, Rishon Letzion
Ladies and gentleman, a surprise! Until the last minute, the hummus we almost chose to represent Rishon was none other than the local branch of Bahadonas, whose owners make hummus differently than the way it’s made in other branches of this chain. But then we arrived at Mashani’s and we forgot everything we ever knew about hummus.
Mashani began as a little store in the family’s home in Jaffa, and with time it grew and moved to a cozy little neighborhood in Rishon. Without any bells and whistles, you get served a huge plate of thick hummus with a strong taste of tehina. The mashawsha here is also served differently than elsewhere – in layers, rather than all mixed together – which is what makes it so wonderful. Try it and see.
Hummus Afif, Kalansua
Go to the Galilee triangle, where you’ll find hummus unlike any other and discover why residents of the northern Sharon and Emek Hefer wouldn’t trade it for any Abu Hassan.
What makes Afif’s hummus so good? Well, it’s light, with a smooth texture. The ful here is also a bit different than what you’re used to, and stands out for its spices. Add a plate filled to the brim, and thin pitas that you can find only in Kalansua, and enjoy. But take our advice: This is hummus you’re best off eating on Shabbat morning, because you’ll have a hard time functioning afterward.