Knock on wood, I’ve never had any major health problems. As I was a prissy child, I’ve never broken a bone or had a concussion. The removal of my wisdom teeth has been my only “surgery.” It doesn’t matter to me that my insurance offers no coverage for massage or acupuncture because I don’t suffer from chronic pain. Avoiding gum and wearing my splint at night is good enough for managing my TMJ. Nasal steroids have worked well for my seasonal allergies. I’ve got good antiviral drugs for when I get a cold sore.
But when I look at the mind, face, and body that present themselves today, they are different* from the ones that departed Vancouver. New York has been hard on me. If I consider the city to be my boyfriend a la Miss Bradshaw—I don’t need to date real boys because The City is always there to hold my hand and show me a good time—then I have to admit that our relationship is starting to take a toll on my body. Physical firsts that have occurred here: Seven stitches. Fainting. Register-with-the-health-department level food poisoning. Throwing up in almost 30 years. My hips hurt not from running but because of the five flights of stairs I climb to get to my apartment. City grime fills my lungs and coats my skin. When summer rolls around, perspiration from the humid nights results in a type of dermatitis on my trunk. Stress and anxiety over any number of real and imagined things pertaining to life here has meant that I sleep less and have a harder time falling asleep, and the deprivation never goes unannounced on my face. I swear the stress has thinned my hair. Good genes and Retin-A have been my only defences against the wrinkles and grey hair that New York surely could hit me hard with.
Since moving here four years ago, I’ve also lost more than 10 pounds. I was not deliberately trying to do so, as this weight did not need to be shed. It’s hard for me to notice its absence when I look in the mirror, but I’ll admit I can see a difference when I compare my current and old passports. I move more here, but that plays such a small role. Food control and body image issues that have been present since my pre-pubescent days have been exacerbated by a city filled with impossibly thin women and a recognition of my aging metabolism. I’ve let it be lost and serve as another trace of my life here. The hollows under my eyes from fatigue look larger and darker. There is less padding in my cheeks to camouflage with blush to create a youthful glow. Clothes don’t fit right, making me less attractive to other possible suitors.
I am beholden to New York, though. For he can make me feel so good. A matinee at Film Forum, a few hours exploring galleries, a walk through Central Park. And obviously, a good meal. He woos me with the decadent ones, but infatuation comes with those that are much simpler and modest: A bowl of handpulled noodles, a pizza, bread and butter. That is, the best noodles, pizza, and bread. He hugs me with these foods and their base nutrients, and their constant availability makes him mine forever (or until my rent becomes too damn high). To my list of beloved boyfriend dishes, I now include a bowl of hummus at Dizengoff.
The Israeli hummusiya Dizengoff comes to New York as an offshoot of Dizengoff in Philadelphia, which is an offshoot of the restaurant Zahav. The latter might ring familiar to you as its chef-owner Michael Solomonov recently published a celebrated cookbook of the same name and reinvigorated the discourse on how to make good hummus. Because of the success of the Philly brethren, the opening of Dizengoff NYC in Chelsea Market has come with a great deal of PR hype and excitement. To avoid the crowds and chaos of the Market, I strategically went on a Monday I had off of work, after the lunch rush. It was smooth sailing with my pick of a seat (a rarity in the Market) and no line.
After having a fantastic squash-topped bowl of hummus at Shaya in New Orleans last year, I can now appreciate the difference between good, alright, and bad when it comes to hummus texture. Shaya’s was impeccably smooth and creamy. A pinch of pita effortlessly slid right through it, creating a trail similar to one that might be made in whipped cream. The density, however, was still rooted in the chickpeas, letting your brain and stomach know that this was food-food and not a whipped topping. Dizengoff’s hummus was similar. I had Shaya’s too long ago now to compare, so I can only say that they’ve been the best two bowls of hummus I’ve ever had. There is clear skill in the technique to get the wonderful texture, but I think the quality of tahini (tehina?) is also a factor. From what I’ve read, the sought after kind is made with Ethiopian sesame seeds. I think I’ve often had hummus that masks the banality of chickpeas and a ho-hum tahini with lemon or garlic. Dizengoff’s hummus has rich, nutty and earthy qualities that are new to me, and I can only think that’s from the tahini.
You have your choice of having your hummus plain or topped, and I went with white beans stewed with saffron and cinnamon. The first few weeks of the shop’s opening offered a lamb and rhubarb option, which unfortunately is now gone. An order includes pita, Israeli salad, and pickles, and I supplemented with two of the three salatim (mezze-like small dishes) that are on offer each day.
The heft and spice of the white beans made the bowl go from dip to meal. Containers of za’atar and a bright red chili concoction dotted the counter, but I didn’t find them to be necessary, especially as the chili oil added warmth but not bite. The large slabs of eggplant were cooked down with tomatoes to almost a sauce; some pieces could be handled by a fork, some better to be scooped up by pita and then swept through the hummus. I loved the dill and nigella seeds in the cabbage salad, but the tahini dressing was on the salty side. The crunch of the cucumbers in the Israeli salad was the better contrast. And the pita. So so good. Pocket-style, it is baked in the large oven at the center of the kiosk and served while still warm. Unlike the Lebanese style of pita that is easy to find in the grocery store, Dizengoff’s is thicker and chewier, particularly around the edges. The middle is thin and charred from the ballooning that occurs while baking.
Why does Dizengoff become a salve for the stress of living here? The simple style, the treatment of the ingredients, and the manner in which the dishes are consumed feel soulful to me. The rhythm of ripping and dipping across a palette of colours and textures shuts me up and makes me feel nourished. The gist is, the calorie cutting I did for my boyfriend yesterday is forgotten when I ask for a second pita and thank him for bringing me Dizengoff.
*I am not in denial that my so-called physical ailments can and should be attributed simply to aging. But, I was needing some dramatic flourish.