Standing on a sidewalk in New York City’s East Village on a warm June day, I look upward into the maze-like fretwork of that most iconic city structure – the apartment fire escape. I can see something moving above me so I squint into the sun. It’s not Tony and Maria from West Side Story or Audrey Hepburn singing in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but a basket, descending slowly, held by a rope. Inside sits a container.
This ingenious device is Michal Gamily’s solution to our current imperative for contactless delivery. In it, her heavenly creation, mashawsha, is delivered daily to a legion of fans.
Mashawsha, also known as Msabbaha, is a kind of hummus that’s popular in Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. Literally meaning “swimming” in Arabic, mashawsha is a sublime mixture of whole, warm chickpeas that “swim” in gently spiced hummus and olive oil.
Israeli-born Gamily is a longtime resident of the East Village and series director of La Mama’s Coffeehouse Chronicles. She is a force of both theatrical and culinary creativity. With theaters shuttered indefinitely due to Covid-19, she has found a way to engage and expand her community by sharing her love of one of her favorite foods. “Do you know, I was dreaming about hummus one night in May, about mashawsha”, Gamily says. “And then I found out the next morning that it was International Hummus Day. ” It was meant to be.
Gamily sources all of her ingredients with extraordinary care. “The tahini is extremely important”, she tells me, and spares no effort in searching the city to find the best. There’s no rushing mashawsha – dried organic chickpeas require a long soak and careful cooking. The preparation process culminates in a blaze of activity with Gamily deftly measuring, mixing, testing, and tasting. As well as tahini, she adds garlic, cumin, a little of the cooking liquid, lemon, and olive oil. This is then topped with the whole chickpeas and sprinkled with fresh, chopped parsley before being packed in a container destined for a lucky recipient waiting on the sidewalk below.
While mashawsha is often eaten as a breakfast dish, it can be enjoyed anytime and pairs beautifully with a variety of breads. I’ve eaten it with everything from traditional pita bread, to toasted bialys, crisp flatbreads and even ciabatta – and will happily eat it all those ways again.
For those more familiar with deli hummus, mashawsha is a revelation. More meal than snack spread, it has a delicate texture that I have never experienced before in hummus, while the sustaining nutrition provided by the chickpeas is an excellent protein source. No individual flavor dominates; the slight heat of the cumin is balanced by the acidity of the lemon. I gifted a friend with a container of mashawsha – initially concerned that she “couldn’t eat the whole thing”, she texted within ten minutes to say that she had finished every bite and inquired when my next “fire escape hummus run” would take place.
Gamily makes fresh batches every day and fills orders with 24 hours notice. You bring your own container (a medium size costs $10, either cash or Venmo) and can place an order by texting her at 646-221-5082.
We are lucky that Gamily dreamt of hummus so that it can fill our dreams as well.