Hummmus-ing along

The “Hummus Lady,” who had made and delivered hummus to some of the teachers last school year, seems to have gone out of business with little warning. Outside of restaurants or the Hummus Lady, hummus is unavailable for purchase in South Korea. This isn’t an exaggeration. I don’t know about where you live, but in the US, even in the Midwest, it’s available at any major grocery store, and stores like Trader Joe’s have several different varieties of the dip/spread. But not in Seoul, definitely not in Seoul, even in the Foreign Market in Itaewon, which has a pretty high concentration of Middle Eastern people and a large mosque.

I’ve been making hummus for years now and in the US, I usually didn’t have to go to a foreign food market to buy the ingredients: chickpeas (garbonzo beans), garlic, lemons, tahini (hulled, lightly toasted, and ground sesame seed paste with oil), and extra virgin olive oil. But in South Korea, none of these ingredients are native to the country or the cuisine. In particular, tahini and chickpeas are not at all common, and here, uncommon usually means expensive and difficult to find. But we like hummus, we have a crock pot and food processor, and it’s easy to make, so I wanted to keep making it.

Tahini has been a particular problem since for some strange reason it was impossible to find pre-made tahini for a while at the foreign markets (and yes, I did make my own tahini a few times, but the components – whole sesame seeds and a neutrally-flavored oil – are easy to get in Korea. Whole sesame seeds are incredibly common in Korean cuisine.) You’d think tahini would be very high on the list of critical things to stock in a store which is run by Middle Eastern people and seems to have many customers from the Middle East, but maybe I’m stereotyping Middle Eastern cuisine. Anyway. When they finally started carrying it, it was pretty expensive, naturally. Now availability is increasing and the price is getting more reasonable. Economic laws in action! But still, if there’s going to be any problems making hummus here, it’s going to be with the tahini. Maybe the Hummus Lady got tired of dealing with tahini-related issues.

Seeing a need, Holly suggested I see if anyone at school would like to buy hummus from me. People generally like the hummus I make and I like making it. So I posted in the school’s Facebook group I’d make some for the same price the Hummus Lady sold it for, 5,000 won (about $4.75) for a 250 gram (about 8.5 ounces) container.

First week, I think I sold about 4 containers, which I consider about 1 1/2 batches, based on starting with 1 pound of cooked beans. Second week, probably 6 containers. I wanted to make it a little easier to log the orders, so I created a Google form. Again, 6 containers.

And then, on Sunday night, I kept getting email alerts that people were submitting orders. The number of orders almost doubled, and Holly wanted 3 orders to take to work on Friday. So I needed to make 3.5 kg (about 8 pounds) of hummus by Wednesday evening. Based on the feedback, I think I’m going to be up to my eyeballs in hummus for quite a while.

I haven’t finished calculating whether I’m making any money with this venture, but I’ll figure it out soon. If I’m not, I’ll raise the price. If demand vanishes, then I’ll just go back to making it for us. It’s still delicious and I like making it!

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