When I asked Facebook where we should eat on our Amsterdam vacation, a friend text-bellowed “SIR HUMMUS!!!” Pretty sure it was all caps, but if not, they were implied.
I googled. Sir Hummus, in the newly hip neighborhood of de Pijp, boasts an endless procession of five-star ratings on TripAdvisor. “We became hummus addicts at an early age,” the web site noted. “No wonder. Growing up in Jerusalem, going for Hummus with dad on a Friday afternoon was the ultimate treat. Finding the ‘best hummus in the world’ in a hidden alley was an exciting treasure-hunt.” The prize: A homey, unpretentious, diverse experience in which all ages, religions, and ethnicities could share a chickpea dream. Sir Hummus’s goal was to recapture that childhood memory.
We can all agree that good hummus–as opposed to the bastardized monstrosities so trendy in New York City these days–is a perfect food. So, I thought, what better place to celebrate Thanksgiving? After all, we were grateful to be on holiday, grateful that Maxie’s Bat Mitzvah was behind us, grateful that a flight to a thrilling international destination was cheaper than a flight to see family in the Bay Area and to eat the most boring bird God created.
As soon as we arrived Thursday morning and finished unpacking, we strolled to Sir Hummus. It turned out to be an adorable little brick-walled, blue-painted street-corner café with huge windows. A Dutch bike with a giant blue wooden basket in front was parked outside.
The restaurant is run by three Israelis–brothers Guy, 32, and Dori, 29, plus Guy’s girlfriend Lior, 31. Dori, a tall and smiling dude with an impressive swoop of lush hair, greeted us warmly (and thanked me for teaching him the term “red-eye” when I explained why I was only semi-coherent). With Guy guiding us through the menu, we ordered one big hummus plate topped with fava beans, a “magic egg’ (“the next morning you will wake up with super powers when you eat it you turn into a unicorn,” noted a chalkboard drawing depicting a happy hummus-eating Twilight-Sparkle-esque creature, to Maxie’s delight) and tahini; another topped with “pikant aubergine,” the aforementioned magic egg, and roasted pine nuts; and a third, for the carnivores, topped with slow-cooked beef. Sitting at a wooden table with homey, mismatched chairs and benches, we drank fresh orange juice, cloudy apfelschorle from Berlin, and a Dutch pear cider. Over our heads was a wooden sign reading, “Hummus Karma: Finished your hummus? Give your spot to someone who’s waiting. Next time someone will do the same for you!”
Every single thing was–as promised–delicious. The hummus was creamy and flavorful, the tahini smooth but with a hint of sharpness, the pine nuts perfectly fresh. The zhug (Yemenite hot sauce) was addictive. As we noshed, Lior bustled in from outside on a wave of cool air, looking like a young Natalie Wood, albeit with a nose stud.
How did the trio divide the labor, I asked her? “Guy is the mad chef, the food person–he’s in the kitchen,” she said. “Dori is a people person–he manages the place. I’m the big picture–I do the administration and visual stuff. Guy calls me the CFO: Chief Fairy Officer.” (On their Instagram, Guy writes that his partner is “always busy making things better when everyone else is sleeping.”)
Lior and Guy left corporate gigs to become hummusiers. They were living in London at the time, and originally started Sir Hummus as a stall in the Maltby Street Market. “But we wanted an experience with real plates,” Lior told me. “And London was too hectic, noisy, dirty. We liked Amsterdam. You bike, it’s always quiet, there is no honking.”
Moving and getting the restaurant going wasn’t easy. “It’s big pressure on a couple, living all together in a tiny apartment, new to the city, learning the language and the restaurant business. It took us a year to set up, a year full of confusion.” They originally started as a bike-delivery hummus outfit with two time slots; then one of their customers offered space for a summer pop-up shop. Three years later, they have two restaurants: Sir Hummus and the larger, brand-new (two months old!) Sir Hummus Kitchen a few streets away. At the latter spot, they can bake pitas and make falafel.
Three years ago, there was no dedicated hummus place in Amsterdam. “We feel like we are teaching people,” Lior said. “We had to educate them that you eat hummus as a dish. For them it was like we were telling them to eat a bowl of mayonnaise. Here, it’s seen as a condiment. But after the first year people stopped saying, ‘Wait, you just have one flavor? Don’t you have sun-dried tomato? Don’t you have wasabi?’ Now we have to explain less.”
Lior demurred when I asked her the trio’s hummus tricks. “I don’t believe there is one secret hummus recipe,” she said. “It’s more about understanding the ingredients, cooking the chickpeas properly, making it a full 24-hour process. And good tahini. We tasted 20 brands in Israel to decide what we wanted, and we import it ourselves.”
I noted that while there are several hummus places in Amsterdam now (some run by Israelis–“we’re friends with them!” Lior said), no other proclaims its Israeli-ness. “We consciously decided not to hide our identity,” Lior said. “We want to stay out of politics and be welcoming to everyone. But we do like when Israelis come in here. It makes the atmosphere really nice.”
Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.