Chickpeas. Fry ‘em up and they become crunchy yellow ingots. And a pool of golden olive oil in a hummus crater has a lustrous glow. But traditionally, chickpeas are an unfussy and inexpensive ingredient – so why is Melbourne’s Bar Saracen charging $100 for a bowl of hummus?
Some might say the blended chickpea, tahini, garlic, lemon and olive oil combo’s humble ingredients are key to the dish’s charm, and the sum of the parts is luxurious enough as it is, so leave the dish alone. But not Bar Saracen co-owner Joseph Abboud (Rumi, The Moor’s Head), who, along with head chef Tom Sarafian, has thrown the kitchen budget at the plate.
Bar Saracen’s version, created to celebrate International Hummus Day on May 13, comes shot through with truffles and topped with minced marron cooked in saffron butter. It’s then finished with Yarra Valley caviar and served with made-to-order Egyptian pita bread on the side.
“Why can a French chef load up his mashed potato – there’s nothing more humble in the world – with truffles and beautiful French butter and it’s hailed as this amazing, incredible dish? Which it is,” says Abboud. “Why can’t hummus have the same thing done to it?”
But Abboud says the dish was really about seeing how far they could push the humble dip rather than making a statement.
“Of course truffle in the hummus goes beautifully. Truffle goes beautifully with marron or crayfish. You can’t deny that saffron in there is amazing and then there’s these little bursts of caviar,” says Aboud. “It was like, ‘This works, now how much are we going to charge for it? Oh, fuck!’
“You could have taken the piss and put gold leaf in it, but it had no place. Everything we’ve done with this dish goes together.”
The dish is, in fact, an evolution of several dishes that began with the traditional Lebanese serving of minced lamb and fat on top of hummus. That was followed by Bar Saracen’s previous iteration, which came with minced prawn, paprika, onions and coriander.
“There’s almost something sacrilegious about mincing up a marron … but that’s how it makes sense. When you eat it you get a whole lot of minced meat or prawn etc. in the same mouthful,” says Abboud. “This hasn’t been concocted just for the sake of it. It has got its roots firmly in a traditional food. We’ve just taken it to another level.”
The Hundred Dollar Hummus is available from Tuesday May 14 to Saturday May 18 at Bar Saracen, 22 Punch Lane, Melbourne.