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On the Hummus Trail

From Drop Box

It sounds and reads better in Arabic than English. And I know there are far better, more richly textured poems in Arabic (and English by Arabs) than this one, but apropos of our subject, on the Hummus Trail, this bit of doggerel by some anonymous Arab poet:

“You can talk of your many vegetables from Morocco to Cathay,
And talk of all the tasty food the kitchen smells betray,
But if you’ve never tasted chickpeas, you’ve nothing else to say,
For this delicious legume rules supreme from Cairo to Bombay.”

And there you have it.
Or almost.

We are told that in 400 BC Plato and Socrates wrote about the benefits of Hummus in their diets.
Sometime in 1200 AD, Mediterranean countries listed Hummus as a staple, and in 1910, waves of immigrants brought Hummus to America.

By the way, its correct pronunciation is (Hhum-mus)

In 1981 some regional brands of Hummus appear in supermarkets,
but in 1993 Tribe of Two Sheiks Hummus, born in Boston with four
flavors, become a national favorite.

Let’s go back to the “regional brands and supermarkets’ event.

I remember as an Arab American kid – the oldest son of the oldest son in an Arab-American family of ten – walking with my father to local supermarkets in the Boston area.

There my father self-consciously tried to peddle Syrian Bread (khoobz Arabe – the term “Pita Bread” was unheard of) and Hummus to the supermarket honchos.

This was way before any market except the Syrian-Lebanese ones carried Syrian bread or Hummus on their shelves. This was the early 50’s.

They didn’t laugh at my dad, but they weren’t interested.

This was way before Dannon Yogurt came out with the first-ever yogurt, Prune-flavored, while we at home barely noticed the cheese cloth bags hanging from a door jamb, dripping into pans below.

Making yogurt (laban) at home was a fact of life.

The rest I guess they say is history, but it’s tempting to think about what would have happened if, say, the Star Market manager opted to carry our bread and Hummus

But if they politely turned my dad away with his samples of Syrian bread and Hummus, my schoolmates were much less polite.

They scoffed at my lunch sandwiches stuffed with Hummus, tomatoes and some lettuce.

In crueler moments, they laughed. A Hummus sandwich was plain weird next to all that baloney and whiter American cheese sticking to all that doughy white bread.

It was Wonder Bread I think, building strong bodies 12 ways. Or was it 8?
One more than one occasion when the Syrian bread was also stuffed with Kibee (ground, spiced Lamb) or Babaganouj, say, I ate my lunch in the Boy’s Room

Truth is, no one knows for sure where Hummus came from.

It’s has been around too long to know, but because it’s used so completely throughout the Arab world, we can assume it came from somewhere in the Middle East. And since that part of the world was, before the Ottoman Empire, called “Greater Syria,” we’d be right in assuming Hummus first came from the tribes or villages of that vast region now broken up into Palestine, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.

It’s important to clear up our references: Hummus is not the thick, silky food we associate with the word.

Hummus is actually the Arabic word for chickpea, called garbanzo in Spanish, ceci in Italian, gram in India. The chickpea is a type of bean whose official name is Cicer arietinum.

What we call Hummus is actually Hummus bi tahina. Or Hummus (chick peas) in (bi) Tahina (the sesame paste).

The chickpea was used as food by our hunter-gatherer ancestors tens of thousands of years ago and was cultivated around 7,000 years ago in the Middle East.

This is pretty much pre-history, so details are not clear. The Phoenicians are credited with bringing the chickpea to western Europe, but there is some dispute over that. Certainly by Roman times the bean had become entrenched in the Iberian diet. So there are lots of versions of hummus, “invented” in lots of places.

What maters is to enjoy the dish and, hey, try our recipe

One 16 oz can of chickpeas drained (or cook your own!)
Juice of one plump lemon
Plump clove of Garlic
2 Tablespoons of Tahini (more or less). Be sure it’s fresh
Splash of olive oil
Salt to taste at end
Coarse: Blend in food processor. Creamy: Use a blender
Gradually add water (little at a time until desired consistency. Easily scooped with bread without dropping off)
Then add your signature spice: Cumin, Sumac, All-spice, Pepper
Garnish with lemons, cucumbers, parsley
Drizzel with olive oil and add a few radishes for deeper color or pomegranate seeds


About Kaleel


  1. I love hummus!
    I’m so pleased to live in a time and world where everyone can enjoy every cuisine from all over the world without the ridicules of seeing somebody eating a foreign food and thinking they’ve violated the laws of diet!

    • travelvideopostcard

      Wonderful! Thanks for your comments and insights! We too are glad to get beyond Bologna sandwiches and white bread….though I had my moments of liking that too.
      Let’s start a Hummus Blog/group?

      All the bst! And thanks again!

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