The mental health ploy had worked. She'd just gotten excused from her army service, and had come to the United States to go to art school. Standing in the kitchen of my old Richmond district apartment, K. [her pseudonym] sampled two versions of hummus: one from Trader Joe's, the other from a local Armenian deli. "Oy, they're horrible," she exclaimed. "However hard they try, Americans cannot make hummus."
Thus, the perennial refrain of most Israelis living in the Bay Area. And its true. In nearly every instance, American hummus is consistently terrible. Either there's not enough tahina (or any), or for some reason, ingredients such as mayonnaise, cream and salt are present. Even the so-called 'organic' versions are offensive, oftentimes sporting vegetable flavorings. Imagine an exotic wheat paste sprinkled with paprika. That's what it tastes like.
Though my Israeli house guest is long gone from San Francisco (she now lives in NYC), we finally have a restaurant where the hummus is competitive with the best that the Middle East has to offer. As good as anything I've had at Yafo's Abu Hassan, or Akko's Hummus Said, this hole in the wall, run by several wonderful guys from Jerusalem, has made the Bay Area a better place to live.
Located in the heart of SF's Mission district, the unsurprisingly titled Old Jerusalem, serves another dish of equal significance: Salat Turki. A standard at most Israeli fast food places, try and find it in the US, and you'll be totally disappointed. Though its not listed on the menu, it is indeed available, and it absolutely kills. A fifteen minute walk from our house, Jennifer and I eat at OJ at least once a week.
"Never trust an Israeli's judgement of Arab food," a Kuwaiti graduate student friend once joked to me as we inhaled Turkish coffee together in Toronto. "They're all one-dimensional orientalists." I thought about these hilarious, stinging words as a Lebanese colleague of mine worked his way through the hummus the other night during an editorial meeting we held at the restaurant.
"Bloody hell," he blustered as he dipped a thick piece of pita into the hummus. "This stuff is so good, you'd think they started this place just for us."