The Hummus Wars


Only in the Middle East could tempers flare over chickpeas.  In October, 2008, The Association of Lebanese Industrialists claimed “protected status” from the E.U. for hummus saying it is a dish unique to Lebanon.  But go to Damascus, Tel Aviv, or Gaza, and you’ll find the same proprietary attitude towards this delicious dish.  Isn’t it great living in Boston where you can enjoy the Lebanese, Syrian, and Israeli versions of hummus without fear?

At Arax, in Watertown, Elizabeth Basmajian claims to have been the first to introduce “real hummus” to Boston 35 years ago.  “All these flavored hummus are not real hummus,” she says.  Her hummus ($5.49 per pound) is “Beirut-style,” which Elizabeth says has a lighter color, a creamier grind, and a stronger taste of garlic.  “You must you a lot of first-rate tahini,” she says, referring to the sesame paste that is an essential ingredient of the dish.  The hummus at Arax is garlicky and thickly textured.   

Sari Abul Jubein, a Palestinian who grew up in Damascus, noted that the Arabic word for chickpeas is hummus and, indeed, his version of the classic dish at Casablanca in Harvard Square emphasizes the main ingredient.  “We use teeny-tiny chickpeas both in the so-called sauce and then on top it, too,” says Sari.  His dish ($7.95) tastes smoky and yet delicate: served as a tapas in his bar-restaurant, you can enjoy the feel of the chickpeas on your tongue.

The Israeli hummus ($8.95 per pound) made at Rami in Brookline draws upon Arabic roots: more than half of Israelis are originally from Arab countries.  What’s unique about Rami’s hummus is its lighter color, which signifies more tahini than other versions in Boston as well as a stronger sesame flavor.  The texture is as smooth as butter left at room temperature.  

The best?  Well, that would depend on your politics.