Warning: This story will make your mouth water
By Sabrina Emms
At Mama’s Vegetarian on South 20th street in Philadelphia, sabich is served up in a warm whole wheat pita slathered with hummus; a fried eggplant slice nestled next to an hard boild egg and spiced with the hot mango sauce, amba, all wrapped in foil.
Two miles away, at Zahav, a very different hummus is served with roast kohlrabi and a little pool of olive oil accompanied by pita dusted with za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend. Salatim & Hummus, salads and hummus, are only the first plates of a many course meal.
Zahav is a prime example of Jewish and Israeli food moving from being street food or individually adopted dishes, like lox and bagels, to a new place as a mainstream upmarket cuisine. While Zahav was not the first modern Israeli restaurant, it has fast became one of the better known ones. Michael Solomonov is the chef behind both Zahav the restaurant, and Zahav the cookbook, as well as Abe Fisher and Dizengoff an authentic hummusiya (a restaurant serving primarily hummus).
As Jewish food becomes more popular and more upmarket, there are a growing number of foodies, especially in this do-it-yourself age of food, who desire to replicate iconic dishes, like Zahav’s incredibly smooth hummus. Also Philadelphia based, Soom, is a company that has risen to fill the niche made by the rise of Israeli food. Soom is a distributor of tahini, the paste made of sesame seeds best known as a key ingredient in hummus. In Zahav Michael Solomonov writes, “Israelis love tahina like Americans love Doritos and wrestling — unconditionally, but a little irrationally.”
Tahini used to be considered almost solely as an ingredient in hummus. Now it is gaining a wider place in the American diet. This might reflect the place tahini holds in Israeli food. Zahav has an entire chapter on tahini, including cookies, other dips and halva, a soft, distinctive candy.
Halva is one of the main offerings at Seed + Mill, a counter in Chelsea Market that opened in 2016, which sells tahini and tahini related goods, like halva. Seed + Mill doesn’t have a lot of competition yet, as it, Soom and Brooklyn Sesame are some of the only companies with a focus on tahini specifically. All were opened in the last five years. Soom does not make halva, or anything other than tahini, but they do pay a sort of homage to halva, with a chocolate tahini spread (halva is also popularly chocolate). Continue reading