1 Dolphin St.
As soon as you step across the border from Tel Aviv to Yafo, ask anyone where to eat and they will undoubtedly answer, “Abu Hassan”. Yafo’s hummus legend, Abu Hassan’s reputation extends across the city as the only worthwhile place to dip your pita. In fact, many devoted locals will even go so far as to say that Abu Hassan is the best hummus in the world. While this claim is clearly a matter of opinion, the line that stretches out the door and around the corner six days a week attests to the widespread agreement that there is certainly something special about Abu Hassan’s famous hummus.
After waiting in line, hearing patrons’ boasts, and smelling the lemony-chickpea aroma that wafts out the window, my belly and taste buds yearned for the some of the region’s celebrated delicacy. The restaurant is just a few tables, so I happily crammed in with strangers at the first opportunity. Sitting next to everyone scooping up their last drops of hummus, as you wait impatiently for yours to arrive, is one of the secret pleasures of Abu Hassan. Even the smell is enough to satisfy a true hummus lover. Although don’t worry– the wait is short. You can order hummus practically on the way to your seat, and usually by the time you’re settled, a fresh plate is already on its way.
Abu Hassan’s fast pace atmosphere is echoed by the workers’ nonchalance. The establishment knows its dishes are good, so there are no frills involved with its presentation. Even when I asked about the history of the place, the response I received was, “we just make hummus”. In truth, other than the fact that Abu Hassan (the current owner’s father) opened the restaurant in 1966, little is known about its history. Curiosity surrounds the secret of their hummus: what makes it so balanced and creamy? What makes this hummus so damn good? No one knows. At Abu Hassan, they simply don’t brag; it is as if perfection is expected of hummus, with no justification necessary. This expectation reflects the bond between Middle East cultures and hummus. The dish dates back the thirteenth century, and stayed a staple ever since. The prevalence of hummus is so strong in Israel that one could even dedicate an entire blog to the topic. Shooky Galili’s blog documents every hummus news item and even goes so far as to explain the exact science behind the chickpea. Yet despite this national obsession with hummus, and now global, Israel’s true love of hummus remains humbly at its pinnacle at places like Abu Hassan.
There are only three options on Abu Hassan’s non-existent menu: hummus, masabacha, and the triangle plate of hummus, masabacha and ful in one hearty serving. While the hummus may be their claim to fame, it is the masabacha that really makes my heart flutter. Within just one minute of sitting down, that glorious hot plate of creamy hummus, mixed perfectly with tahina, chickpeas, olive oil, zaatar and paprika, lay in front of me. Looking at my portion, surrounded by pita, onions, tomatoes, and pickles, I couldn’t help but wonder: who could ask for anything more?
I know hummus is good when I don’t need pita because I’d rather eat the whole plate like soup with a spoon. At Abu Hassan, each bite melts in your mouth; a perfect blend of all the different ingredients that just seem meant to be combined. The plate is hot and the chickpeas are soft. The olive oil seeps into the creamy puree, accented by the parsley on top. The spice is subtle and citrus does not overpower the tahina. As I dipped my pita and onions into the bowl, it didn’t take long to realize: I too would soon be one of those people who claim Abu Haasan as the best hummusia in the world.
Abu Hassan is only open until 3 pm and having hummus fresh is always best, so if your stomach can handle hummus for breakfast, I highly recommend a late morning visit. Even if you feel stuffed to the brim for the rest of the day, I swear that it is worth the trip. As one of the loyal customers told me, and now I repeat with conviction, “Abu Hassan is my favorite part of the day.”
Written by Zoe Jick
Photo: Nicky Kelvin