Rafi is a PHD candidate at the department of Sociology & Anthropology, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He holds a Master's degree in Sociology & Anthropology (with distinction). Since 2008 he has been conducting research on the cultural field of organic food in Israel. His Dissertation deals with the cultural globalization and sociology of Israeli culinary culture. He has researched and written extensively on organic hummus in Israel and has published online a paper titled: Organic Hummus in Israel: Global and Local Ingredients and Images.
Abu Hasan Jaffe, September 2011
Tell us where we are, and why this place is so important within the whole hummus world in Israel?
Well, we, we're in front of Abu Hasan, second branch. It's the name that I gave it, the second branch. I don't know why it is the second branch. But I think it is...well I know that it is not the first one, and it's the second branch that they opened.
The first one is not far from here. But because of the huge success, they opened another one. I think they probably have another one or two. But this branch and the other one are the most famous hummus branch, I think, in Israel, and for sure, in Tel Aviv, and for sure, in the central area. So I think that this particular restaurant, I find one of the most interesting restaurant, because of the location.
It is not too far from the centre of Tel Aviv. It is not too far from the military radio station. And you can find here actually most of the, of the times in...at these times, the multi-ethnicity and, and a lot of a variety of people.
You can find here some celebrities that stand in the line, with some kind of a yuppy person, and upscale urban people. And of course, with so-some lower scale people, you will find here. Jews and Arabs, and, and Jews, and immigrations, and, and Russians. And everybody come to this branch.
Actually, if, if I go back to my memories, this is the, the, the restaurant of my, kind of, teenage area, and youth area, when I was younger, and, I, I was a kind of a student. And whe-whenever I, I wanted to meet my friend in Tel Aviv, they would say, 'Let's go and meet in the hummus'.
Now, when they say, hummus, it was the only one restaurant that they mean. We have to go to 'this' one, because 'this' is the hummus. The other hummus places is not considered as a hummus. The only hummus in Jaffa, in Tel Aviv, is Abu Hassan restaurant number two.
So my...friends of mine will just told [sic] me, 'Rafi, just meet in hummus, and I will be here'. So, this is the place, and...
Now you said that this is the best hummus in Israel. But is that just your opinion?
No, no. It's not my opinion. Well, my opinion. But hummus has evolved and revolved in many directions. When I was younger, of course, I thought it was the best hummus in Israel. But you know, it is kind of a social construction, what is a best hummus and what is not.
And when I was growing up, and I tried to make hummus myself, I just found that, well, there are other excellent hummus. But when you come to Abu Hasan, you don't just eat the hummus, and the taste is not the hummus itself. It's the atmosphere. It's the smell. It's the, the yelling of the people.
And it's above all, the knowing of eating in Abu Hasan. And I think this is the secret ingredient of Abu Hasan. It's the name, it's the place. Whether it is good or not, if you put me into a kind of a blind taste, I'm not sure that I would pick this as the best hummus in Israel.
But for sure it is fresh, and for sure it is warm, and it's lovely. A-A-And it's great fun eating here. But if, if you ask me if it is the best hummus...most of the people say it is, and I tend to believe them. But I, I'm not sure.
I think the best hummus in the world is the hummus that I make. But it's kind of not so nice for to say.
When you say it's a social construction, the taste, what do you mean?
It's a long story, and...
Just keep it brief.
Well, the person that told, is not me. It's...there are a lot of sociologists. The most famous one is Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist. And he just described as the taste is not kind of idiosyncratic. It is not...well, people say, about taste, there is not...we can't argue about taste. But Pierre Bourdieu say, we 'do' actually argue about taste.
And people like journalist, and, and public relations, and people in your, in your social atmosphere, when everyone say, this is the best hummus in the world, you, you actually develop your taste according to their saying [sic]. So eventually, what 'you' think is the best hummus, or tasty, is not your taste...is not the thing that going on in your mouth.
It's the things that going on in your brain, and in your social imagination...what is being...what is a good taste. And when you say, 'I eat in Abu Hasan', it immediately demonstrates a, a, a position, a social position.
And it says that 'I'm, I'm well known'. I'm, I'm kind of aware of the hummus places. I know the best hummus. I know what is about to be considered as the best hummus. And it is the reason that I pick this restaurant, and not other ones.
So it's a socially learnt thing?
Yes, social, learnt.
Continued at a Tel Aviv Supermaket
Mm, so here is again, as I told you, it is very interesting because you get here, the king of the hummus. The, the three, three statement here. The king of the hummus, Tzabar, Abu Ramzi. King of the hummus is very Israelian. Sometimes you, you will say, the king of the falafel.
Previously, in, in Israel, people would ask, 'Wh-which one is the king of the falafel?' And then again, now, it's the king of the hummus. It resembles authenticity. Tzabar, which resembles Zionism, and Abu Ramzi, which I, I don't know actually who is Abu Ramzi. But it says, Tzabar, Abu Ramzi, hummus which has the correct amount of spices.
So this one, hummus, hummus in za'atar. Hummus with za'atar. I, I actually like that. But this one, I don't think that I would eat, or I won't think that I would give my children to eat this one, although when I was a kid, I had a lot of it in, in my family.
Can you talk about how the industry has added its weight to the social construction of consuming hummus?
I think that probably, if you ask me why hummus is such a popular dish and, and product in Israel, probably is because of Strauss. And they, they go with this kind of Achla hummus to the market. And a lot of people like it. It is convenient, and easy to grab it from the shelf, and easy to eat it.
And you don't have to soak the, the chickpeas and do...prepare it from...for yourself. Just grab this one. And probably, the success of this ind-industrial packed hummus is one of the reasons that people like hummus so much in Israel, and eat a lot of hummus in Israel.
So I, I think it is...the, the, the real agent for the success of hummus in Israel are the industrial factories, and not the hummussiot, not Abu Hassan. You, you have to thank, to thank Strauss, because of the hummus, and because of his success.
And how much of those is that to do with advertising as well?
Yeah of course, of course. The, the ad-,...it is part of the way that industrial company works. It's the advertisement. There was a very famous commercial phrase, that if hu-,...this, this one is Hummus Achla. And the saying was that if the hummus is achla, which means, if the hummus is good, then everything is good. If hummus achla, then everything is achla.
And it was kind of a very popular phrase in the commercial. And I think that this phrase really make, make the, the, the hummus s-, that popular.
Grab the biggest tub, pick it up, show it to us...
Okay, so here, you can see a n-, a large variety of hummus. There are lots of tastes and it...but basically it's the same hummus, with slightly varieties, and kind of different amounts of packing.
First, you can see here, this one is the one kilo hummus. I'm not sure if you can find in other places than Israel. But in Israel, when we eat industrial hummus, what I call industrial hummus, it's like the common...a common breakfast, and a common sandwich, when children go to their school.
So you just get a...grabbing out a, a full spoon of hummus, put on a bread, make a sandwich out of it. This is your lunch. And, and it is also, could be your breakfast, and could also be your, your, your, your supper, with the bread and full spoon.
So, so this kind of...is, is a family pack. And lots of families buy this one. And some people say that it takes them a whole week to finish it. So...and, and you get some...several varieties. You get Tzabar, and this one is very interesting. The name of the hummus, it's Tzabar. Tzabar is the name of the first Zionism. The Z-, the Zionist people were Tzabar.
The first Jews that were born in Israel are Tzabar, and hummus is a Tzabar, which is actually a clear, symbolic, Israelian thing. Hummus is a Tzabar. If you're an Israeli, you must buy this one kilo Tzabar hummus. Then you might be considered as Israelian. If you don't eat this one, you're probably not Israelis.
Well that's quite a clear message, isn't it?
Yeah. Clear message. And i-i-it's authentic...Tzabar. It, it resemble authenticity, and, and the huge...you know, the, the big packing. Of course, it is cheaper too. It's quite cheap. You can get...see...15 shekels for one kilo of hummus. We had just one in Abu Hasan. How much was my dish?...17 shekel, and it was 100 gram. Is one, one kilo. So it's very cheap industrial hummus.
So when they're calling it Tzabar, do you think that's sending a really clear message that hummus is Israeli?
I don't know if it's their in-intention. But for sure, when I see hummus as Tzabar, it makes this metonymy of Israeli and, and hummus. Tzabar is the, the authentic way. It, it's Israeli culture. Tzabar is Zionist culture.
Now what, what you can see, if you go to the second aisle or the second shelf, you can see a kind of, you know...again, it's Tzabar. It's the same branch. And, you see, this one is the [background noise] regular Tzabar, and you don't see, and you don't see anything else be-beside hummus, and it's Tzabar.
Here, you can see another name, which is Abu Marwan. Hummus from a recipe from the hummusia place in Jaffa, which is kind of, to be of a more authentic [sic]. If you ask me, I assume it is exactly the same hummus, but a different package, in order to make it kind of authentic one.
And you know, you don't have to the Jaffa...you don't have to risk yourself in an explosion. You only have to buy this one, Abu Marwan, and no problem.
Which is the most popular brand?
I, I, I, I would say that Tzabar is, is popular. And for sure, the Strauss. They, they call it Hummus Achla. And again, very interesting symbolic meaning because Achla is an Arabic word, which means probably, good. I don't know. I, I don't speak Arabic. But they say Achla is good. And...
So tell me which is the most popular, do you think?
I, I think that this one...Hummus Achla. For sure Hummus Achla, Strauss, Hummus Achla is, is, is a very popular one. Is, is one, is one of the, the hummus that made hummus such a huge, industrial product, and a daily product.
And for...in my opinion, this is a brilliant commercial thing, to put Hummus Achla, to call it Hummus Achla, because it is a daily routine.
It resembles authenticity. It resembles earthiness. And it, it is good. And it had a lot of success. And Strauss made a lot of money. And of course, they imported it, you know, this...
And you got here, different varieties of this Hummus Achla. This one is the regular, but you got here hummus with a, a s-, kind of a spicy sauce, spicy salsa. Hummus which is kind of more spicier. And you got here, hummus with tahini, hummus in...hummus in tahina, hummus with tahini.
And you've probably got here...it's tahini, it's tahini...different package...now you've got here...oh, this is wonderful...this is tahina. It's not hummus. But tahina from whole grains, I, I, I really like, because of the organic thing, and the, the, the health culture.
And I think that there is...maybe they didn't succeed with it, but they also produced a kind of diet...diet hummus. Light hu-,...hummus light, just like coke light. And you can get here, Achla hummus. And this one is hu-hummus with a lot of tahini, in, in a kind of, in a kind of thick texture.You know, is, is a thick texture, with grains...chickpeas and grains. And you can see different varieties.
What about this little one here?
Yeah, the little one is...you know, as I told you, hummus is, is a dish you can get with yourse-,...get, get, get work [sic]. You know, pull it from your bag, grab a pita, and just have it. And this one is a small one you can get into work.
And some people might say that this, this is kind of an emergency pack. If you travel around, and you don't have any hummus, just pull from your bag this little one, grab a pita, and you have wonderful...
Now, now here, here you can see...I, I think I told you this also previously, this kind of resembles the Post-Fordism of the industrial era. Yeah, the, the name is Post-Fordism. Ford is the, the way that people produced...manufacture, produced commercial commodities previously. It was kind of the same product, like the same Ford car, black car, get the same one.But in our era, the Post-Fordist era, the point is variety. And the point is not to lose consumers. So each consumer can get the particular commodities that fits to him. If you like pine nuts, you can get here, hummus with pine nuts. If you like spicy, you can get here, hummus with spicy sauce.
If you like a lot of tahina because you heard that tahina is the healthiest part of hummus, you can get hummus with a lot of tahina. So it's probably healthier. Basically, it's the same hummus, but slightly different changes. You get different varieties.