If you have any experience with eating a favorite dish in another country and seeing it butchered, you will understand the following. While I could certainly use broader global culinary perspective and expertise, even with my admittedly narrow scope, I can think of no better example of the disparity between a local favorite and its horrid representative in North America than chummus (often spelled hummus). (I use the “ch” to signify the phlegmy sound the actual word begins with.)
Chummus is basically mashed cooked garbanzo beans (chickpeas), lemon juice, garlic, and tachina (a paste of roasted sesame seeds, also spelled tahini). There are variations, including the most common where thick, rich (and most importantly — flavorful) olive oil from the middle east is drizzled across the chummus before it’s served and scooped up in warm torn off pieces of pita. Chummus is a magical concoction. Smooth but with some modest texture that gives it a hold, but not a roughness. It’s thick but not heavy. It’s savory, a touch nutty, and best served warm. In short, it’s complex and delicious.
The chummus sold here in the U.S. is, well, honestly I’m not sure exactly what it is. It’s some sort of flavorless gruel with chunks. Yuck. In the middle east the chummus is so good there are restaurants whose sole purpose is to serve chummus. Everything else is secondary. Here, I can’t believe any of it sells. The closest thing you can find nationally is from a company called Sabra. It’s not horrible. It’s like a weak impression of what’s available in Israel. There’s a local company here in Seattle called Dreamland (QFC in University Village carries it). This stuff is probably the best retail chummus I’ve tasted in North America and it’s not as good as the worst I’ve had abroad.
The funny thing is that the worst chummus in Israel, what’s available in the supermarket, mass produced by Israeli food conglomerates is better than the best stuff here. I can’t imagine it costs much more (or any more) to do it right. So why not do it right here. The answer of course here is to make it myself (or go to The Hummus Place in New York city). Unfortunately neither is a viable option given the time commitment involved.
Just like there was a wine revolution here in the U.S. I want a chummus revolution. Where the local producers rise up and say, we can make quality too! Americans will be the better for it.