I’m preparing a lavish meal for Shabbat guests this evening. Chicken soup is essential on this cold, rainy, dark day in late December. I could make any of the other traditional foods, trendy or otherwise. I have some license. Meatballs or brisket or chicken or fish for the veggie grandchildren. Challah is mandatory. As is wine or grape juice. Cholent, a strong maybe! The house smells so delicious. Soon we will spread out the white tablecloth and await the guests.
But oh dear, also known as vay is mer, I forgot to mention the most urgent food. How could a meal, a major meal that is, in the Zionist State, not include the ubiquitous and quite delicious, the required, loved by all, chumus! Or as they say in chutz l’aretz humus.
Is there any living human being, including toddlers and ancients like me, who doesn’t know what chumus is? True I don’t remember having had it in the Far East, but that doesn’t mean it’s not awaiting me in some Chabad House. As a matter of fact, I do think I’ve had it in Tokyo and Bangkok, but I can’t attest to that in a courtroom.
A couple of years ago we were in a tiny gas station mini-market in a remote village in snowy, mountainous Alaska, miles from anywhere more elegant. We needed sustenance. Our requirements were minimal. It had to be kosher; so those long hard well preserved things that are dried beef or pork and apparently last forever in the Alaska back country, were out of reach. Some chips had the required rabbinic approval so we grabbed them. Then my sister, my intrepid sister, meandered over to the refrigerator section and I scoffed. What would she find there? Heads of reindeer? Not at all. She found perfectly kosher, well dated, containers of chumus. A longing for Israel burned in our souls as we bought the precious creamy dip, which cost more than a ton of baby lamb chops. Combined with the chips and some chilled bottled water, our car was the perfect venue for a delicious lunch. Mmm.
Chumus is clearly ahead of falafel in the most popular food in Israel contest. Be invited to someone’s home for a meal and the odds are astronomical that, in addition to all the chef inspired, or grandma inspired, creations, there’ll be a simple platter of chumus, usually with a tehina topping and olive oil and paprika to add some zest.
When we first started coming here in the early 70’s we knew not what chumus was. Had never heard of it where we lived, in the suburbs of the world’s eating capital, New York City. It just hadn’t arrived there. And, looking at it then, with four very young children who were more captivated by the truly gross chocolate spread (my opinion only), than the chumus, I myself couldn’t find the charm in the stuff. It looked like a pale peanut butter and I am never going to eat peanut butter……and I never did.
So, it took a while. And then I finally tasted it and it was not immediately at home in my palate. Pasty, mushy, neither sweet nor spicy. What virtues did this stuff have that made an entire nation survive on it?
I learned. I survived transition and became a diehard chumus eater. Me and the rest of the world apparently. In the mid 1980’s there was an unnoticed explosion throughout Europe and the United States. It was chumus. Restaurants were serving it. Chef restaurants included. Gourmet home cooks were boiling up chickpeas. Every grocery, large or tiny, in the most unlikely places like North Dakota, for instance, sold chumus. It became addictive. Which, I hasten to add, is good because it’s really a vitamin laden healthy food. All this for a food that was first known to be consumed in Egypt in the 13th century. The test of time! And the foresight of those prescient enough to have bought chickpea futures in 1980 or so! Sailing away on a luxurious sea of salatim today with shekels enough for centuries of chumus.
Contrast chumus to America’s love affair with another food identified with our people: the bagel. I am sad to say that bagels do not translate as well in middle America as does chumus. If you’ve ever had a so-called bagel (and don’t get me started on croissants since this is a Jewish piece) on an airplane you may never ever want a bagel again. That’s truly eating to survive.
I have had chumus on US airlines though. It’s not the best. It’s not Abu Ghosh, for example, or any of the millions of chumusiya restaurants liberally sprinkled throughout Israel, but it is edible, especially if you forget your longing for fresh laffa or pita. In America they call it pita-bread which should be a clue to its inauthenticity. But the chumus is edible and even tasty. Not VERY tasty but sustenance level.
So, while the whole world talks about our hi-tech wonders, I focus on an item that is unlikely to be sold for billions of dollars, making a 25 year old, a year out of the IDF, an instant billionaire. Chumus. I know that the techie billionaire eats it. No doubt about that.