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Devoted to chickpeas

Abu Hassan serves only one dish – hummus. Samantha Weinberg joins the queue in Tel Aviv

Samantha Weinberg | January/February 2015

To the south of the modern city of Tel Aviv is the old Arab port of Jaffa. Among its steep and narrow roads is one of the culinary institutions of the Middle East, Abu Hassan. It’s not much to look at: a rather tatty corner building with a seven-table restaurant on one side and a take-away hatch on the other. And the menu is the opposite of expansive. For nearly 50 years Abu Hassan has served only one dish, with or without a topping of bean purée: hummus.

On a Friday morning, the whole place is heaving, with champing queues to both sides. Peering into the kitchen, beyond the shaven-headed chefs, you can see steam rising from a giant saucepan. Bubbling away inside it are chickpeas, twice the size of the ones that come in tins from supermarkets. In some mysterious alchemy—the recipe is a secret—the chickpeas will be whipped up with lemon juice, tahini and garlic to produce one of the few things that Arabs and Israelis can worship equally.

Abu Hassan serves its hummus unceremoniously, swirled around a disposable plastic plate, with a dollop of tahini, topped by flecks of chopped parsley, dustings of paprika and ground cumin, and a tor of chickpeas, all glazed with green olive oil. You don’t eat it, you wipe it, with pillowy pitta breads, in reverent silence. The hummus is smooth and light, almost fluffy, with the tang of lemon and the sharp dryness of paprika cutting across the rich, almost meaty substance of the chickpeas; the sensations change as they hit different parts of the tongue. And on you go, wiping and wiping, until the plate is clean.  ~ Samantha Weinberg

NIS19 (£3.15). 1 Ha’ Dolfin Street, Jaffa

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