Hummus! The Movie!

The humble chickpea takes center stage in this delectable foodie doc.

Suheila Al Hindi’s award-winning hummus. (photo credit: OREN ROSENFELD/’HUMMUS! THE MOVIE’)
Suheila Al Hindi’s award-winning hummus.
 It’s no secret that we love our hummus here in Israel. We don’t mean that store-bought, fridge-cold spread or, worse, the range of red pepper/avocado/ sweet potato dips that pass for hummus abroad. We’re talking street-side, madethat- day hummus with dried chickpeas that is eaten only fresh out of the pot.
While the dish is beloved throughout the Middle East, in Israel we’ve taken it to new heights with the hummusia – a street-food style eatery serving only hummus as a main dish, as opposed to part of a selection of meze to begin a meal. An essential trait of a true Israeli is the ability to passionately debate all things hummus; the best hummusia, the best accompaniments – be it chunky hummus, masabaha or a generous spoonful of ful (fava beans), or the best eating utensils (onion, obviously).
Oren Rosenfeld loves hummus so much that he made a documentary about it! Bringing table-side talk to the big screen in Hummus! The Movie, directed by Rosenfeld and produced by JU, it explores the faces behind Israel’s most beloved hummusias. It is informative, fun, but also emotional, drawing out the difficulties that each vendor experienced in their journey to financial security, thanks to one simple dish.
The documentary’s touching emotional awareness makes total sense after talking to Rosenfeld, who is delightful to chat with. His ability to treat everyone like an old friend is evident through the three main characters in the film, who openly and comfortably address the camera as they share their stories. Now, it is time for Rosenfeld to tell his.
THE DOCUMENTARY was inspired by “the hummus wars,” a back-and-forth battle between Lebanon and Israel over the Guinness world record for the largest bowl of hummus. Rosenfeld, who lived in a village near Abu Ghosh – a town well-known for its hummus and central in the Israeli effort to win said record – drove past the town several times a day. Drawn to Abu Ghosh’s attempts to beat Lebanon’s record (at the time 23,000 pounds, but currently at 11.5 tons), Rosenfeld befriended the locals and often visited for a chat.
One day, a noted hummus maker, Abu Shukrei, told Rosenfeld that he had participated in a “Ten Best Hummus Workers in Israel” contest, and had eventually lost to a woman from Acre. Intrigued at the idea of a woman owning an award-winning business in the heart of Acre’s Arab market, Rosenfeld set off the next day to meet her. He stayed for three years.
“Abu Ghosh became a character in the movie, as did this female hummus maker, Suheila Al Hindi, so we already had the beginning of the journey into this documentary and one thing led to another,” explained Rosenfeld. At its core it’s “a documentary about hummus makers and their love for hummus. They come from different backgrounds – Christian, Muslim, Jewish. The one thing that unites them, aside from their love of hummus, is the fact that they all live in Israel.”
The documentary demonstrates the power of hummus in Israel. In international showings, many viewers are surprised that this is the case.
“Yes, in Israel it is a big deal.” Rosenfeld does a wonderful job of illustrating how ingrained hummus is to our culture, regardless of religion or background.
“When you’re hungry, all differences melt away and you just think, ‘I want to get my hands on a good bowl of hummus.’ Religion and conflict aren’t important. Food has the power to do that, to connect people and once you’ve eaten, then you can talk.”
Rosenfeld demonstrates his point with a story.
“I was in Jerusalem during a week of tension. The city was all over the news. Two Arabs sitting near me called me over to share their hummus with them. With all the news crews around us, and the chaos, we ate together with our hands, and that’s the power hummus has, it breaks barriers and borders. In my experience, it’s much bigger than mashed chickpeas with tehina, it’s a superfood.”
I ask Rosenfeld for his favorite hummusia. He pauses, then emits a nervous giggle.
“I’ll get in trouble, I can’t say.”
He does say that the deciding factor of a great a hummusia is the people in the kitchen.
“We checked more than 300 places in the making of the movie. Some tasted amazing, but the people making the hummus weren’t friendly. So I connected to the dish, but not to the place. Here, everyone you ask will tell you a different favorite place, often for personal reasons. Maybe the first time they walked in someone smiled at them. The more simple the food is, the more other things are important. If someone loves hummus, and loves making it, you will taste it. Love is the main ingredient.”
He does join me, however, in ranting about ingredients that should never feature in hummus.
“Hummus means chickpea [literally, in Arabic]. It doesn’t mean guacamole, or red peppers, it can only be made with chickpeas. If you make a paste of avocado, it’s guacamole, if you make a paste of… I don’t know… peaches… it’s not hummus. It’s blasphemy. The base must be hummus, must be chickpeas, and if it isn’t, it isn’t right.”
Preach, Rosenfeld!
HUMMUS! THE MOVIE has found international success, having been shown at film festivals around the world, from New York to Italy to the Bahamas. Each host country had a unique take on the documentary, highlighting certain aspects. In Berlin, they used Al Hindi as an example of a woman who manages to run a successful business despite a lack of education, supports her entire family, and employs 10 men to boss around, to boot!
“I never thought that would come out from a movie about hummus.”
In New York, a Lebanese woman found Rosenfeld after the showing to tell him that, whilst she was initially upset with the film, it pleased her to see that Lebanon still holds the record for the largest plate of hummus. She then invited Rosenfeld to enjoy the best hummus he will ever taste at her home.
“It showed me how hummus can transcend boundaries.”
Rosenfeld often invites the main “characters” from the documentary attend the film festivals, too. The movie has been Al Hindi’s chance to leave the country for the first time, at the age of 52.
“She got a lot out of the movie in a way I would never have anticipated. She met filmmakers from Iran and other countries that she would otherwise have never had contact with. She’s a very special lady. If you’re ever in Acre, check her out.”
He recently took some “famous Hollywood guests” and they loved it; “they said they never had anything like it. Well, obviously, they are from LA, so I knew that!”
WITH SUCH an enviable selection of cheap, fresh hummus available in Israel, it is questionable if it is even worth it to attempt making it at home. The documentary demonstrates the complexities involved in producing the perfect texture and taste, showing Eliyahu Shmueli, owner of the nation-wide hummus chain “Hummus Eli-Yahoo” on his quest to find the perfect (kosher) match between his brand of dried chickpeas and tehina.
Nonetheless, after picking up so many tips and tricks during filming, Rosenfeld couldn’t resist making his own.
“I’ve learned a few things. Everyone does it differently. Everyone claims that their secret is the tehina that they use. That’s the main difference. The chickpeas used are mainly the Hadas brand that are produced here. They are hard to find outside Israel, which probably is why you can’t find anything that compares abroad.”
Where people start to go wrong is when they don’t allow enough time for the chickpeas to soak overnight.
Most hummusias make one fresh batch of hummus every morning from the soaked chickpeas and when that batch is finished, they close up shop, be it at 1 p.m. or 5 p.m.
“Some people are greedy and will whip up a new batch if they are running out, and it won’t taste as good. The chickpeas really have to soak overnight, and if they don’t you can taste it.
“Another secret is to save the water the chickpeas have been soaking in, and to add that in with the tehina and chickpeas. Some people also add a few teaspoons of lemon salt to every kilo to give it a lemony taste. That is it, that’s the base.
“The last time I made it at home, it came out pretty good. People asked where I had bought it from, so that’s not bad. I don’t know if I can repeat it, I don’t remember exactly what I put in!”
If you’re tempted to join Rosenfeld and partake in his knowledge, there is a basic hummus recipe on the film’s website, which – gasp – calls for canned chickpeas instead of dried.
IT APPEARS that Aluf Abir, whose song “Hummus Metamtem” (“Hummus Makes You Stupid”) serves as the soundtrack to most of the film, may be correct.
The common denominator “that makes everyone here stupid” could very well be the mashed chickpeas themselves. While they can cause wars, they can also bring people together and if the film shows anything, it’s that hummus is much more than a recipe.
“The bottom line is that it’s a simple food, but it is so much more than that. Watch the movie (but not on an empty stomach), and you’ll understand how everything comes to light.”
A screening is currently being organized for Jerusalem. Updates at: