Hummus: smooth and simple, globally significant and undoubtedly delicious. And it’s finally getting its time to shine in America.Hummus henceforth shall no longer be relegated to the snack aisle, forced to share space with concoctions like spinach artichoke and Buffalo chicken ranch dips. No, hummus is a healthy, hearty, historic meal, now receiving its deserved due in DC: an entire dining space dedicated just to this dish. It’s called Little Sesame, an Israeli-inspired hummusiya (hummus shop) that opened under DGS Delicatessen in Dupont Circle.
Nick Wiseman, co-owner of DGS, clearly did his research before opening this original space. (There’s only one other hummusiya we know around, Dizengoff by Michael Solomonov in Philly.) Wiseman named his spot for that tiny, but very special seed central to tahini, most commonly found liberally sprinkled on the outside of your bagel.
To open Little Sesame, Wiseman teamed up with Ronen Tenne, a New York-based chef and, much like hummus, an Israeli transplant. The two met almost a decade ago working together as line cooks in New York, where Tenne taught Wiseman how to deftly prepare fish.
Tenne came to New York, as many Israelis do, while traveling the world. He decided to stay and follow his life’s passion for cooking, enrolling in culinary school and later working at several restaurants (including Osteria Morini, which also has a spot in DC) and catering establishments.
“One day, Nick called and said, ‘How do you feel about a hummusiya?’ It was impossible to say no. I love DC and I love hummus.”
Tenne ate hummus every day growing up in Israel, but found it nearly impossible to find anything that came close in the States. Little Sesame is changing that. Hummus “brings me back to late-night Tel Aviv street food,” he says. It has to have that heady mix “of not only flavor and texture, but also emotion.” He’s also adding his background in haute cuisine to the mix, which certainly can’t hurt.
While this Dupont hummusiya serves hummus as the star of the show, it differs from the mainstream Israeli spot, where most commonly it’s just hummus that’s offered, perhaps topped with an egg, fava beans or whole chickpeas (in a way Israel’s answer to chunky peanut butter). But to account for the American palate, Tenne wanted to do something more vibrant, seasonal and veggie-friendly. He says that “hummus is an Israeli fetish; [Israelis] eat it four times a week. For Americans, we wanted to make it fresh and trendy, bring it to what’s happening now in the food scene.”
Sourcing of the ingredients, therefore, is of utmost importance. For Tenne, the tahini could come from nowhere but Israel. The chickpeas are grown on an organic farm in Montana that harvests highly specific, smaller-than-normal chickpeas of very high quality. The other ingredients, Tenne says, are “olive oil, garlic, water, lemon juice and love.”
Each of the hummus bowls at Little Sesame comes with warm pita, a salad and chef-inspired seasonal toppings. This winter, they range from the classic, with not much more than some parsley and paprika, to roasted and brilliantly hued gold and purple beets and strained yogurt. Wiseman and Tenne visit the farmers market weekly for inspiration and flavor-profile testing and work with local farmers for the actual sourcing.
Tenne’s go-to hummus bowl? The option with famed DGS pastrami, sourced from right upstairs. It’s Ashkenazi-meets-Sephardic and American-meets-Israeli, as common on deli tabletops in this country as hummus is in the Mediterranean. Tenne’s thrilled at the potential for both Little Sesame and for the future of the hummusiya in the US. “There’s a lot to love when it comes to hummus.”
Little Sesame, 1306 18th Street NW, Washington, DC (below DGS Delicatessen), Monday–Friday 11:30 am–3 pm. Not kosher.
Top photo courtesy of Little Sesame