Updated: Oct 9, 2019
It feels great when guests at our homestay in Bangalore enjoy our food. One of the guests' favourites on our menu is hummus. Apart from recipe requests, I also get asked "where did you learn it?" For me personally, the best way to learn a dish is to eat it first. So here's the story about how I learnt the best hummus in the world:
A lane no wider than 10 feet, a cul de sac with very basic plastic tables and chairs laid out on uneven, cobbled street turned into dining space. Hashem in Amman, Jordan, was buzzing with locals, eating and taking packages home, with a lot of loud but good natured shouting. We settled down to eat. The menu: falafel, hummus, ful medamus and khubbus served on neatly torn pieces of newspaper. And of course, sweet, black tea.
The crispness of the falafel loaded with flavours of chickpea and a herb center is not something one can ever forget. Then came the hummus, with a delightful garnish of peppers and olive oil, served with freshly baked khubbus. Hummus is a simple dish. There is not much you can do with it, except stick to the script. But this was easily the best hummus we had ever had – creamy, fragrant and just mmm. We decided not to share portions.
And then came the fuul medames, a heavy dish, even on an empty stomach, and we had already been through two courses, but this was stuff you couldn't stop eating. Cooked to perfection, smooth and creamy with a hint of sharpness from the garnish of onion, tomato and peppers. We devoured the bowls and just when we thought we couldn't breathe, chai was served, to settle distended guts.
If I ever go back to Amman, this would be the only reason.
This was breakfast, day one, having got off a rather early flight and a bit sleep deprived. We walked around taking in the sights and sounds of downtown Amman and spotted a bustling sweet place where the queue extended out onto the street, people carrying away small and large boxes. A couple of hours of walking had dissolved some of the morning's excesses so we got in line, more out of curiosity than hunger.
This was Habibah, the legendary dessert epicentre of the city. The decadent and delicious dessert kunafa was being brought out in trays the size of one's arm span and was being cut and served as fast as it came, hot and steaming. We had no fridge in our hotel room, so we ordered a portion of kunafa to dive into. The cheese was creamy, the crisp vermicelli garnished with pistachios and a generous drizzle of rose flavoured sugar syrup was warm.
We couldn't eat any more. The only way to keep eating was to quickly walk around the few sights in the vicinity, climb up and down the Roman colosseum and be back. So we did that. This program was repeated every morning we were in Amman.
Our craving was nowhere close to being satisfied so the day we we were heading off to Petra, we packed as much of the goodies we could, not sure if we would get a chance to eat on our way back, since we had a noon flight out. But on that last day too, we made it to Hashim's – but it was too early for Habibah when we took the cab to the airport.
If I ever go back to Amman, this would be the only reason. And a very compelling one at that.