Asking around Columbia, I found that the word that first comes to mind when I mention Middle Eastern food is hummus. This chickpea-based dish has become an important part of the American diet, featured constantly in our dining halls, and even sitting side by side with salsa and other dips on the Super Bowl table. A healthy alternative to ranch and mayonnaise, Hummus is simply a mash-up of chickpeas dressed with tahini (sesame paste) and lemon juice. This dip originates in the Levant, where it is traditionally eaten with pita bread and falafel for breakfast, or served as a mezze, a small plate or appetizer at dinner. Hummus here in Morningside Heights is easy to find; it is served in the many Middle Eastern restaurants and delis in the neighborhood, and sold in packages in all of the grocery stores around campus. I have never really given much thought to the authenticity of the hummus found around the area, because I consider a plate of hummus and freshly made pita bread eaten on the side walk in downtown Amman an experience that cannot be replaced or imitated here in New York. Nevertheless, I have done a little experiment to find which place offers the most authentic hummus in Morningside Heights, the most successful combination of the three basic ingredients with the right amount of spices. To carry out this experiment, I picked up plates of hummus from different restaurants and grocery stores in the area and hosted a gathering of my Middle Eastern friends. Each person tasted the different plates of hummus, all removed from packages and placed in numbered white plates, and ranked the hummus from most to least authentic. Averaging out the results, we arrived at the following ranking:
Falafel on Broadway
3151 Broadway (b/w Tiemann Pl. and La Salle St.)
A bit of a hike north of 116th St., this small Middle Eastern eatery offered the most authentic Hummus. This Hummus was not too tart from the tahini and lemon juice, nor was it too starchy. It was drizzled with, but not overwhelmed by, a good amount of olive oil. It would be very close to Hummus found in the Middle East, except that it was too spicy. The restaurant itself is charmingly shabby, with skewers of raw kebab stacked in the glass display case by the front door, and posters from Jordanian tourism adverts covering the walls, owing to the owner’s heritage. Falafel on Broadway is a great place to relax with a plate of Hummus and falafel, a cup of tea, and maybe even a shisha.
2867 Broadway (b/w 111th St and 112th St)
This deli right under The Heights Bar and Grill seemed like a regular grocery store at first glance. All I could see through its display window were muffins and other standard deli fare. But taking a step inside, I found myself in front of bags of spices with aromas that bring me back to the spice bazaars of Istanbul and Cairo. This place also sells a huge variety of imported goods like chalva, a sesame-based confection, maftoul, the Levantine version of cous-cous, and za’atar, a delicious blend of thyme and Middle Eastern spices. I could spend an hour looking through all the goods they were selling, but returning to my purpose, I headed towards the deli counter, where they serve hummus and other Middle Eastern mezzes. Samad’s Hummus came in second, having a right consistency, but it fell behind Falafel on Broadway because of the lack of olive oil.
2857 Broadway (b/w 110th St and 111th St)
This vegetarian fast food chain serves up Hummus along with other eastern Mediterranean staples like baba ghanouj and falafel. Maoz’s Hummus ranked high on our list, giving us the right proportion of chickpeas to tahini. Their Hummus missed on its spice blend, which was not quite the same as that mixed into traditional Hummus.
2911 Broadway (b/w 112th St and 113th St)
This small Middle Eastern fast food restaurant has seen a pretty substantial makeover since last year. The menu has changed quite a bit and they have even begun to offer wine, beer, and handcrafted Boylan soda. While their Hummus tasted good, the problem was its consistency. Hummus should be easy to pick up with a piece of pita bread, but this Hummus was just too runny. But don’t let this Hummus review scare you away from eating some of the other foods on offer, like their shawerma or baba ghanouj, which are actually very good.
2840 Broadway (b/w 110th St and 111th St)
Westside serves its own Hummus alongside brands like Sabra and Tribe. Westside does not just make plain Hummus, but also offers hummus blended with spinach, or with baba ghanouj. None of these blends are authentic, so we decided to taste the only the plain variety. We found that it was a too hard, possibly because it was low on tahini. While their Hummus isn’t quite authentic, you could salvage the dip by drizzling on some olive oil to make it less stiff.
This brand of Hummus could be found in practically any grocery store here in the US. We included it in our tasting to see if a manufactured Hummus could resemble the traditional homemade dip. We were not surprised that this dip failed our test miserably. For most of us, this was the first, and probably last, time we ever have Sabra. The hummus was just bitter, leaving our mouths with this awkward after-taste. Could it be the quality of chickpeas or just a side effect of the manufacturing process? For us, this hummus was just bad, let alone unauthentic.