There are certain foods that make you feel right at home. For some people, this may be fried chicken or meatloaf. For me, it’s hummus. I’ve eaten vast quantities of hummus my entire adult life, starting with when I was in college. When I’m tired, all I want is a thick slice of dark bread with hard cheese and hummus. In New York, we frequented an iconic Middle Eastern grocery store called Sahadi’s. My pining for artisanal-quality garbanzo beans in LA was extremely short-lived, however, because as soon we set foot in the Larchmont Farmers Market, we stumbled upon Mom’s artichoke hummus.
Mom’s stand at the market is manned by Anis Chafai, a twenty-seven-year-old Tunisian whose stock-in-trade is a huge welcoming smile and an outstretched hand proffering a piece of pita with a large dollop of whatever tasty spread you happen to be pointing at. “You have medical insurance?” he says. “No? Try the extra spicy.” Anis’s uncle started Mom’s in 1998 with a line of pita breads. The business has since grown to include over 16 different flavors of hummus in addition to other specialty foods (Garlic and chive hummus! Avocado hummus! Baba ghanoush! Grape leaves! Feta and tomato spread!). The flavors, rich and intricate, incorporate Tunisian, Moroccan and Algerian influences, as well as those of Palestine and Syria.
The name Mom’s, incidentally, is not what you think. Anis’s uncle has three sons whose names are Mo, Omar and Malik (thus MOM). Their mother’s name is Sofia (thus ‘S). In addition six women, all of them moms, make the hummus in the company’s restaurant in Anaheim. That’s enough mom’s home cooking for double the flavors Mom’s currently have on display.
Anis, who arrived in the US in 2012 speaking French and Arabic, worked in a bank in Tunisia. He loves his customers, but his heart is in finance. In between working five farmers markets a week, he is studying English and business. The road of cultural immersion, hummus and otherwise, has had a few bumps. “The word ‘spicy’ in French has a different meaning, so I kept giving very spicy hummus to people who wanted something else. A few customers got upset.” He thinks. “And there was one time when a lady asked for chocolate hummus. I got angry. I had just had a bad time with a finance exam… But still. Chocolate hummus. Can you imagine?” He smiles broadly and hands me a generous triangle of pita smothered with artichoke hummus. My favorite.
Personally, I think Anis’s eventual defection to banking will be a huge loss for LA’s hummus scene. Perhaps there is a way for him to combine both careers. After all, even bankers need to eat.
As a recent transplant to LA from the east coast, Anya Grottel-Brown is contributing to the series: The Newcomer Journals.