Having lived in the Middle East for so long and traveled widely and written about the food, we have to admit that we consider ourselves to be something of connoisseurs of Middle Eastern cuisines – often very mistakenly reduced to just being called ‘Lebanese food’. We love a great hummus and nobody does it better than the Syrians and Lebanese, although you can get an equally good hummus in the Arabian Gulf, especially in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Another admission: we’re purists to some extent too. The silly hummus restaurants and culture we saw in New York, such as the stuff mentioned in this story, made us cringe. What would our friends back in the Middle East think, we wondered?
To them – and us – hummus is essentially a chickpea dip, consisting of chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini (a sesame seed paste), garlic, salt, and olive oil. And nothing else.
For many years, our weekend breakfasts at home in Abu Dhabi and Dubai would consist of freshly-made hummus, scooped up using a piece of torn, still warm Arabic bread, along with some tangy olives, white cheese or labneh, and strong Arabic coffee or mint tea.
Breakfast was one of our favourite weekend rituals in the UAE, but we enjoyed our mid-week Arabic dinners just as much, when we’d stay in and order home-delivered ‘Lebanese’ food for dinner.
We’d typically get a serve of falafel or kibbeh, a couple of salads such as tabbouleh or fattoush, a mixed grill, and a few dips such as muttabal, baba ghanoush and hummus, which would always be central to that scrumptious spread.
When we spotted these crazy coloured dips at all the deli counters at Vienna’s Naschmarkt, at first we thought the pink dip was tarama or taramosalata, the Turkish/Greek fish roe dip, and that the orange dip was some sort of Mexican chilli dip, but then we realised they were different flavours of ‘hummus’!
Hummus Or Just Crazy Flavoured Dips? – Modern Middle Eastern Food at Vienna’s Naschmarkt
Considering we’d been hearing stallholders and shop-keepers’ conversations in Turkish and German (Turkman? Germish?) as we wandered around the Naschmarkt, it made sense that Turkish migration to Austria, which began after World War II, would have had a profound influence on local food culture.
But coriander hummus? Carrot hummus? Seriously, presenting these dips at a traditional Turkish restaurant in rural Turkey would cause a riot. Lara had to buy some. Pretty colours and food? She couldn’t resist. So we took some home for a taste test at our Vienna apartment…
We tried the curry, chilli, wasabi, and beetroot flavours of these hummus dips and while they were all tasty, frankly, they weren’t really hummus. They didn’t taste anything like hummus as we know it.
In this case, the relatively anodyne base of the hummus is used in much the same way as someone might make a dip from cream cheese or sour cream. It’s a base and has no resemblance to the heavenly hummus we know and love so well.
I’m sure these flavoured hummus dips are a far healthier alternative to creamy dips you buy in the supermarket and we do recommend you try them when you’re next at the, but think of it as a healthier beetroot dip or wasabi dip and so on, rather than a beetroot ‘hummus’…
Serve them, but just don’t expect to get a positive reaction to them if you serve them at a shindig with Middle Eastern guests and call them ‘hummus’. Maybe just call them dips and leave the name ‘hummus’ to, well, hummus.
As with pizza, some traditional dishes, traditional methods of production, and ingredients lists that can be codified, need to be protected. In the same way that sparkling wine produced outside of Champagne is no longer labelled as ‘Champagne’. It won’t make consumption of it any less enjoyable, just less misleading.
Published December 2010; Updated January 2023