By Jo Rittey


Hummus means chickpea in Arabic. I didn’t know that. I also didn’t know that a few years ago there was a lot of controversy over the aforementioned hummus.


Hummus has become huge in Israel. Israelis might well say that it has always been huge. Chickpeas are one of the oldest crops in Israel and Israelis consume more hummus per head of capita than any other country in the world.  But Lebanon claims to be its spiritual home, and in 2008, The Association of Lebanese Industrialists tried to go all AOC on it (Appellation d’Origine Controlée, where geographical jurisdiction and authenticity became major KPIs in Hummus Gate.


“Well, when we talk about hummus,” Israeli academic Dafna Hirsch said in 2012, “we talk on the material level and also the symbolic level. There is a mythology that completely surrounds hummus that doesn’t surround a lot of other foods. It’s a fascinating thing.” Hirsch was speaking as an expert; in 2011, she published a cultural biography of hummus in an ethnology journal.


I’m not really sure where we’re at on the whole hummus status. I do know there was nothing political about the hummus Yossi made for a United Nations-like gathering of friends a year and a half ago. But it is, without a doubt, the best hummus I have ever tasted. Smooth, creamy even. And the falafel?  Flavoursome and the antithesis of the dry offerings usually labelled falafel, these were in a category of their own. Then there was the marinated eggplant, the salads, the chilli dip, the olives, the eggs, the pita bread and all the other things that Yossi took two days to prepare, inspired by his mother’s recipes.


Dinner at Yossi’s was always a multi-sensory experience to rival that of Heston Blumenthal. Seated outside around a long trestle table or the couch against the wall, mosquitos biting, exotic music coming out of speakers perched precariously on the windows, and the most interesting conversations. A chef originally from Massachusetts; a Hawaiian on a seven day cleanse on the brink of a most remarkable 8 month journey; a Portuguese guy who came to Australia for love; Israelis savouring the taste of home; the loveliest young French woman who reminisced about being able to wire a speaker at the age of 16 and whose equally lovely partner from Dunedin is testing the freelance waters of design and illustration.


Some people have a knack for bringing good people together over food. That’s what feasting is and, I would hazard, that’s what life should be. Yossi left us a year ago, but he taught us so much and I feel lucky to have been part of that.



Jo Rittey is a freelance writer who wants to live in a world where apostrophes are used correctly and smiles are genuine. When she’s not roaming the streets of the northside in search of great food, she likes getting lost in beautiful films and having wildly enthusiastic discussions with chefs.

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