To Abu Ghosh, In Search of Israel’s Best Hummus

In a country that can’t agree on much of anything, where everyone claims to be the best at whatever they do, and where people are so passionate about hummus, if you ask 50 different Israelis where to get the best hummus, you will get 50 different answers. The title of best hummus is hotly contested and there are as many styles (Lebanese, Jordanian, Syrian, Druze, etc., etc.) as there are opinions. But, somehow, there seems to be some sort of consensus that the Arab village of Abu Ghosh, just outside Jerusalem, is the hummus capital of Israel.

This, in fact, is the town’s claim to fame. OK, so they have a few Christian pilgrimage sites, including a monastery from the Crusader period and The Church of Notre Dame de l’Arche d’Alliance (Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant), which is recognizable by its huge white sculpture of Mary holding the baby Jesus. We tried to find the former and couldn’t, and found the latter to be closed midday, perhaps for lunch, or a siesta. There is also a candle shop that smells like curry, two ice cream parlors, and a cute store selling blown glass and ceramics. The town has a long and interesting history, worth reading about (although I will not be going into it here).

But people really come for the hummus. For such a small town (according to a 2008 Haaretz article, Abu Ghosh has 5,500 residents) there are a large number of restaurants, most of which specialize in hummus. If Abu Ghosh sounds familiar to you that may be because in January, 2010 Abu Ghosh Restaurant won the world record for the largest bowl of hummus ever made, weighing in at 4 tons. Yup. This victory was short-lived, however, as Lebanon retaliated with an even larger bowl of hummus in May of the same year. (For more on the so-called “hummus wars” check out Ben Brewer’s blog.) Further proof that hummus is a matter of national pride.

So, spurred by the fact that we (Beth and our hubbies) had a rental car for the weekend, knowing we’d been talking about going to Abu Ghosh for some time, and the recent NY Times article my father sent me, we headed off Saturday morning from Be’er Sheva to Abu Ghosh. What’s nice about setting out to visit Arab villages on weekends is you know they will be open (as opposed to much of the rest of the country that shuts down on Shabbat). From Jerusalem it’s a 20 minute excursion; from Be’er Sheva it’s a three hour round-trip commitment. But we didn’t care. Visions of hummus danced in our heads.

We’d heard about two places in particular: Lebanese Restaurant and Abu Ghosh Restaurant (they’re not very creative with their naming in Abu Ghosh). Unsure which to go to we decided it would be whichever one we saw first. As we turned into Abu Ghosh, Lebanese Restaurant was one of the first things we saw, and so it was. At noon on a Saturday it was not crowded as we were afraid it might be and we were seated immediately in a back, partially outdoor area with large, beautiful trees growing through the floor.

As soon as we sat down they plopped a plate of crispy falafel and another with olives and pickles in front of us. Sustenance to help us decide. We ordered a hummus with meat and one with fuul (stewed fava beans), plus labne with garlic and lemon. My conclusion, I’m afraid to say, is anti-climactic. Blasphemous, even. Can anything ever live up to such hype though? Don’t get me wrong, the hummus was good. Far better than anything you’d find in America. But the best in Israel?

The meat, mixed with pine nuts and spices, on the hummus was perhaps the best I’ve had but, as Evan said, it was hard to judge the hummus beneath it. The fuul was good, a little watery but tasty. To me the texture of the hummus was too thick, a little pasty. Perhaps my hummus palate has been formed by my local joint in Be’er Sheva, whose silky, smooth, tahina-rich hummus – that still stands up to toppings – is now my favorite. The falafel balls were good, the pickles excellent. To me the biggest disappointment was the pita, which tasted store-bought, not fresh and fluffy.

The best part of the meal, surprisingly, was the labne with lemon and garlic we’d ordered almost on a whim. Dense and thick in texture yet somehow airy at the same time, it had the characteristic tang of labne with the brightness of lemon and sharp addition of garlic. Drizzled with just a bit of olive oil, this was worth traveling for. And truly it was all worth the trip, to see what the fuss was about. I’m not here to take away their crown as hummus king, and our experience (which I must reiterate was good, just not revelatory) was based on one restaurant. There are many more to try. If you are in Jerusalem, do stop by and taste for yourself.


20 Comments

  1. Jerusalem — what a site to behold that would be. I’ve dreamt of going to Israel, though in all its strife (and probable expense to visit), I don’t know that I’ll ever get there. At least I can go vicariously through your photos and stories! The food looks incredible. Is that lamb in the mixture on top of the hummus? I’d love to recreate that!

    Cheers,

    *Heather*

    • Katherine

      It is truly incredible. As someone who never had a burning desire to visit Israel and has found myself living here, every day I find new things to love about this country. And seriously, it’s very safe (at least in my experience after living here for a year). It can be expensive to get to. But I’d love it if you keep following my adventures :-) And yes, it is ground lamb with pine nuts on top of the hummus, which is an Arab style of hummus topping and soooo good!

  2. Looks fantastic I need to go.

  3. I just discovered your blog via Carolyn’s, All Day I Dream About Food. And ironically, I’m leaving for Israel in a week! I’m sending this post to my husband right away, who is very determined to find the best hummus in Israel :)

    • That’s amazing!! If you need any tips or recommendations feel free to contact me. I’m leaving in 10 days to go home for a bit. Jaffa (the southern end of Tel Aviv) has amazing hummus (some say Ali Caravan is the best) and Acre/Akko, just north of Haifa, is also supposed to have amazing hummus. The Yemenite section behind Carmel Market in Tel Aviv also has amazing hummus. In general, all the hummus here is likely to be better than anything you’ve ever had. If a place is crowded and/or has a long line it’s probably a good bet. Have so much fun!!!

  4. How fun to hang out with Beth again and you guys had delicious meals!!!!!!!! Enjoyed looking at pictures… wish they are real in front of me!

  5. What a fun excursion! Searching for the best of anything is a great idea!

    • Haha, I totally agree. I’m still searching for the best hummus – I have a current favorite, but in Israel it’s hard to go wrong.

  6. Wow! This is amaaaazing!

  7. Everything looks amazing! My mom was in Israel 2 years ago and raved about the food. She said they even served hummus for breakfast.

    As much as I love hummus, I think I would be even more excited to try the falafel! :)

  8. Hummus is one of my favorite foods. I’m from NYC. Have you tried out any places that serve great hummus? I”ve a few in mind. I try not to go too often because I know I just cannot stop eating them. :)

    • I’d love to hear where you go for hummus in NYC!! I haven’t been to any hummus places in nyc since I’ve lived in Israel since when I come home all I can seem to eat is pizza and soup dumplings… But I remember Taim being really good and my in-laws, who have been to visit us twice, say it’s the closest they’ve found to Israeli hummus. I noticed a ton of new, really tasty looking places though! Where do you like?

  9. Katherine, I agree with what your assessment of the hummus at the Lebanon restaurant. I made the mistake a couple times of going there thinking that it was the source of “Abu Ghosh Hummus.” I think they get by mostly on their location. The hummus that made Abu Ghosh famous, though, comes from the Abu Shukri clan (same as the one located in the Old City of Jersualem). There are two of them in Abu Ghosh – feuding cousins or something – and the hummus there is EXCELLENT. There is another place called Naji that is also very good. They are at the top of the hill, near the church. The traditional Israeli hummus triumvirate is Akko’s Abu Said, Jaffa’s Abu Hassan, and Abu Ghosh or Jerusalem’s Abu Shukri. So far in Beer Sheva, my favorite is the branch of Abu Said, though I like the spread at Beit Ha-Ful.

    • I will have to go to Abu Shukri in either Jerusalem or Abu Ghosh, it’s been on my list for some time. And I have to get up to Akko! I have a bit of a blasphemous opinion about Abu Said in B7 – I’m not that crazy about it. Have you been to Hummus Jordani across the street in Rosco City across from Saba Gepetto? That is my favorite. I know a lot of people who really like Hummus Abu Dhabi by the university but just tried it for the first time and wasn’t in love. I still have to go to Beit Ha-Ful, maybe this week! Thanks!!

  10. Katherine, thanks for posting your experience. It helps me relive my experience of eating hummus every day for two months this summer, when I was living in Abu Ghosh. I have to say that the best hummus I had was in a felafel from Abu Shukri. I didn’t get much time (or have much money) to go to the restaurants to try it out in style, but I really enjoyed what I had. Even the store-bought hummus was good! Guess I’ll just have to make some now that I’m not there anymore and can’t just buy 1 kilo in the store…

  11. nice article.

    Next time please visit my restaurant too in AG :)

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