I didn’t eat hummus for a year after I left Tel Aviv for New York. I was too afraid of being disappointed. Disappointed by the quality of hummus if it wasn’t beautifully smooth with tahini or if it was dry, indicating it hadn’t been made fresh that morning. But more than that, I dreaded being disappointed by the restaurant’s atmosphere.
Hummus in Israel isn’t just a meal, it’s an activity.
Most Fridays I’d meet friends at a humusia — a restaurant dedicated to hummus and we’d toast the weekend with a bowl each of warm, creamy hummus, punctuated with spicy zhug and pickles. There would be a line of hungry patrons down the street — a mix of old men in wife beaters, mothers with babies, and Tel Aviv hipsters, who’d chat together as they waited for a table.
At some point, even I recognized that my debilitating dread had become ridiculous, so I started to dip my toe into the New York hummus pool. Some spots were decent, most were a little stingy — I was always sad when I didn’t waddle away, having stuffed myself silly. Then I found Sunshine — a small, bright cafe five minutes outside Washington Square Park, and it was wonderful. Not just the hummus itself, but the friendly waiters, the slouchy vibe, the mingling after the meal with a cup of Turkish coffee. It was as close as I’d gotten to replicating those Fridays. It felt bittersweet.
I later learned that Sunshine is an outpost of Hummus Eliyahoo, arguably Israel’s most recognized hummus franchise which began as a tiny roadside eatery in Yokneam. Then the magic of Sunshine — which my Israeli crew all agreed was a solid eight out of 10 when I dragged them along — made sense.
Eliyahoo’s founder, Eliyahu Shmueli, is something of a legend in the Israeli food scene. He’s a tattooed drifter-turned-Breslov Hasid with an infectious joie de vivre. Shmueli’s charisma and deep spiritual zeal are captured in the impeccably-titled documentary Hummus! The Movie!, which poignantly illustrates hummus’ power in Israel to transcend political and religious boundaries.
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Sunshine’s menu sticks to traditional offerings: hummus topped with tahini, chickpeas or fava beans, scattered with parsley, sprinkled with cumin and sweet paprika, drizzled with good olive oil. Plus the not-altogether original but increasingly accepted toppings of mushrooms, shakshuka or vegetarian shawarma (the entire place is veggie, and kosher). They’re all good, but the mashuasha or “The Complete Sunshine ” with all the classic toppings and a hardboiled egg is my go-to.
Leading the operation is Sunshine’s manager Suf Amir, who has known Shmueli for many years and was one of his first customers. It’s easy to see why Shmueli trusted Amir to bring the franchise to New York — he emits the same feel-good vibes and speaks about hummus with a passion that borders on spiritual: “Success begins with giving and doing good in the world… I do that with high-quality hummus. I believe that everyone deserves to be treated equally, and to eat hummus made with love.”
Sunshine Hummus and Love, 59 E 8th St, New York, NY 10003. Kosher, vegetarian.
Open Mon-Thurs, Sun 11 a.m-6 p.m., Fri 11 a.m.- 3 p.m. – or until the hummus runs out.