Hummus for this American is a delicacy that snuck up on me several years ago. I think my first encounter with it was at a farmers market and describe to me as a pureed bean dip. Not the most appetizing description. Then tasted it for the first time at a friend’s Bar-B-Que party. I first associated it with Greek cuisine, and then more with Middle Eastern dining. All this to say that while new to me, Hummus has a rich, storied history, which brings us to director Oren Rosenfeld’s documentary Hummus! The Movie.
Hummus is the Arabic word for the chickpea. Those familiar with it knows that it’s a pureed blend of chickpeas, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and paprika. The documentary first briefly goes into the history of Hummus. The first controversy starts with Its birthplace. The answer depends on who you ask. Israelis naturally believe it came from Israel, but the Palestinians would beg to differ.
It then makes the case that Hummus has a magical property that somehow brings opposing cultures together in peace. Like hanging out for coffee or drinks, Hummus is able to bring Jews, Christians, and Muslims together at the table in a spirit of unity and friendship. No one goes to war over Hummus.
The bulk of Hummus! The Movie is devoted to following three distinct chefs in the field of Hummus—a Jew, a Christian, and a Muslim. Each with his/her unique history with the dish.
“Hummus is able to bring Jews, Christians, and Muslims together at the table in a spirit of unity and friendship…”
The documentary’s narrative starts in Israel in the city of Yokneam, where we meet Eliyahu Shmueli, a member of the Breslov Hasidic community. He is in the process of building a chain of Hummus diners. He describes the miraculous event that led to the discovery of the perfect Kosher tahini needed for the dish. This one ingredient saved him from inevitable failure.
Restaurateur Jalil Dabit is a Christian Arab living in Ramle. His father opened a restaurant in 1948, which Jalil recently began to manage with a focus on Hummus. He is one of four sons and the only one who followed in his father’s culinary footsteps. But his wife is about to go to Germany for her Ph.D., and now Jalil is torn between perpetuating his father’s legacy and striking out on his own path.
At the midway point of Hummus! The Movie, it’s made clear that hummus is a man’s dish. Only men can open a restaurant, and only men can make proper hummus for the masses. That is until Suheila Al Hindi of Acre, the single Muslim woman to own her own restaurant in the Arab Market. She inherited her family’s business, dedicated herself to hummus, and was voted Best Hummus, much to the dismay of her male competitors and being crowned Queen of Hummus.
“…inherited her family’s business, dedicated herself to hummus, and was voted Best Hummus…”
Interspersed are a few side stories, such as Israel’s attempt to break the world record for the largest serving of hummus weighing in at 2,000 kilograms (i.e., two tons). There’s also Olivier, who is a monk in Abu Gosh, an Arab village. He is searching for the perfect hummus in hopes of promoting peace between the Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Lastly, there’s musician Aluf Abir, a self-proclaimed Raggamuffin Hip-Hop artist of the Middle East. His song “Hummus Makes You Stupid” is a commentary on the fact that the only thing in common between the warring factions in the Middle East is Hummus. Therefore hummus makes you stupid. He describes the physical appearance of hummus like an explosion of C4.
Hummus! The Movie is pretty lite fare when it comes to its subject matter. While Eliyahu, Jalil, and Suheila have fascinating stories that pretty much carries the entire film, as a food doc, I was hoping for more food (its preparation and plating). We’re presented with a lot of plates of Hummus or moments of Hummus being plated, but preparation or foodie discussions of the dish itself takes a back seat to the main subjects’ story. In other words, enough with the chatter, bring me more food.
Hummus! The Movie (2019) Directed by Oren Rosenfeld. Featuring Suheila Al Hindi, Jalil Dabit, Eliyahu Shmueli.
7 out of 10 stars