Most Londoners consume hummus out of a branded tub, probably purchased at a supermarket, usually using crisps or carrot batons to scoop it up. Versions of the chickpea paste are ubiquitous, and it is so integrated into the British diet that one is more likely to find hummus on a pub menu than old classics like pickled eggs. All in all, eating hummus in Britain for Britons is often a mundane act: it is a food that is snacked on by individuals, rather than shared amongst others. It lacks much of the cultural substance that brought it to these shores in the first place.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, Levant, Southwest Asia, by contrast, hummus has historically been eaten less as an everyday snack, and usually as part of a communally shared meal or at restaurants dedicated to the dish alone. It is in the Levant region that hummus’s culinary value is most lauded, the central focus of many restaurants. Previously existing in Syrian, Lebanese and Palestinian cities, the genre is now widespread across Israel, with hummusiyot now probably the most common form of restaurant across the country: the word is used to describe Jewish and Palestinian hummus joints alike.
In Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, by contrast, it is eaten only as part of a meze, holding no special status over tarama or tzatziki/cacik, and this is reflected in the Turkish restaurants of Green Lanes and Haringay, and the Cypriot restaurants of Palmers Green. Hummus came to the U.K. with the arrival of a significant number of Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the 1950s — 1960s, peaking after the 1960 declaration of independence led to severe instability in Cyprus. Veteran food author Claudia Roden, herself arriving in London from Cairo in 1954, remembers Cypriot delis as the only places one could purchase Mediterranean ingredients like tahini and pomegranate molasses.
The arrival of Lebanese migrants to London following the 1975 Lebanese Civil War changed London’s hummus landscape further, with areas like Edgware Road and Shepherd’s Bush shaped by this initial migration. Iraqis, Kurds, Egyptians, Palestinians, and Syrians in particular, began opening restaurants that mostly reflected the already popular Lebanese fare. Since the 1990s, the industrial estate Park Royal has become home to the best of these restaurants.
The forms of hummus one can expect to find in Arab restaurants still largely extend from the Lebanese dominance of what came to be more broadly called “Middle Eastern” food culture in the U.K. After Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s cookbooks exploded in the late 2000s, this set the stage for the arrival of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem based chefs in London. Honey & Co opened in 2012, The Palomar in 2014, and, the London-born Turkish-Cypriot chef Selin Kiazim opened Oklava in 2015. Now these restaurants have inheritances of their own, at the likes of The Barbary, Berber and Q, Bubala, and Mangal II.
Wherever it may be rooted, hummus is a dish that never trails too far away from tradition, and where tweaks are made, they often also indicate stories of migration, as well as culinary innovation. The diversity of the base hummus paste falls on two major decisions. First, the choice of ingredients, such as whether to include garlic or cumin in addition to chickpeas, tahini and lemon juice. Second, the ratio of chickpeas to tahini. It can thus be silky smooth or slightly grainy; supple or dense; citrusy or nutty.
In this spirit of difference, here are eleven hummus dishes that each represent the heterogeneity of London’s hummus creators. They also represent value-for-money. Em Sharif, where a basic hummus mezze costs £14.50, and a gradation of optional toppings reaches its peak with wagyu at £42.50, does not make the list.