Ramallah's favorite hummus, for both Christians and Muslims

There are currently around 30,000 residents in Ramallah, of which 25% are Christian.

November 17, 2016 11:08
3 minute read.
An Employee of Bandali prepares hummus

An Employee of Bandali prepares hummus . (photo credit: ELIYAHU KAMISHER)

On Wednesday, the six tables of Bandali Hummus – a small, grotto-like restaurant – are filled with customers. They eat a simple meal of hummus, ful (cooked fava beans), falafel, and chopped vegetables, while a portrait of the owner’s father, draped in a brown rosary bead, hangs in the corner.

Bandali, which has built a strong following among both Muslim and Christian Palestinians, is located in the Old Christian Quarter of Ramallah popularly known as Ramallah Tahta. The area is dotted with old churches and a couple of bars and liquor stores, which sell whiskey and wine. While spirits – which are forbidden by Islamic law – do not attract the majority of Ramallah residents, Bandali has succeeded in doing so.

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“For me food is a mood,” says Bandali Hussory, owner and creator of one of Ramallah’s most beloved hummus joints. “One time I sat and thought about how to make hummus, and it all came together – it takes some time; the first hummus was not the best.”

Bandali pours copious amounts of thick green olive oil out of a large glass jar, and then garnishes the dish with whole chickpeas and a spicy mixture of vinegar, garlic, chili, and lemon juice called tatbila. The hummus, a favorite among Palestinian Authority officials, is especially creamy due to his unusual grinding process, which uses ice water, and specially made tehina (sesame paste) from the Aloul factory in Nablus.

“It’s very easy,” says Bandali. “If you want to do it well, you have to use fresh ingredients and chickpeas from a fresh harvest.” When asked what makes his hummus special, Bandali responds, “Why, do you like it?”

Ahmad Mustami, 38, a customer of Bandali, can’t pinpoint what exactly makes the hummus so good. “I don’t know how it’s different, but he does something that makes it tastier than all the other places,” Mustami says.

Father Yacoub Khoury from the nearby Greek Orthodox Church, who frequents Bandali, says he does not go on Fridays, when people from around the city fill up plates full of hummus for family dinners. “The lines are too long,” he says in the office at the 6,000-member parish church, inaugurated in 1852.

Yet Khoury opines that Bandali is a bright spot in Ramallah’s dwindling Christian community. “Before 1967, if you came on a Sunday, every store and restaurant was closed. Now it’s on Friday,” the day of rest for Muslims.

Ramallah was a predominantly Christian village of around 12,000 residents before 1948, but it experienced influxes of refugees in 1948 and 1967, and then job-seekers, when the town became the PA’s de facto political capital in 1995.

There are currently around 30,000 residents in Ramallah, of whom 25% are Christian, according to 2012 figures. The five main Christian denominations in the city are Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Melkite. There are also small Armenian Catholic and Coptic Christian populations.

Khoury says Christians have been fleeing Ramallah due to high living costs, Israel’s military rule of the West Bank, and cultural restrictions. “My son can’t afford to live in Ramallah, and if he works he must deal with [IDF] checkpoints,” Khoury says referring to his son, who moved to Belgium.

On Christian-Muslim relations, Khoury remarks there have been better days. “When I hear from my grandfather about how the Christian- Muslim relations were then – like brothers – and how they are now, I am afraid for the future. Everybody today is looking for another passport.”

Other Palestinian-Christian representatives contend that Palestinian Christians are not persecuted by Muslims. “The Israeli occupation and settlement activities are the main reason for Christian emigration [from the Palestinian territories],” Friar Ibrahim Shomali, a priest of the Annunciation Church in Beit Jala near Bethlehem, said in a in 2012 Jerusalem Post op-ed.

At Bandali, religion is a delicate topic. “My father told me to never discuss religion or politics, and I’ve stuck to that rule for all my life,” says one employee, who declines to give his name.

“People come here from all religions,” says Bandali Hussory, who brushes aside any larger symbolism of his Christian-owned restaurant. “People like the taste, they just come to fill their stomachs,” he says, before going back to dicing onions and chili and serving up hummus to Ramallah’s hungry customers.

Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

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