by Willem Thomas
VANCOUVER – The chickpea is a hard-working little legume, having been a versatile addition to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean diets for thousands of years before finding it’s way into western dishes. Taking some notes from their namesake protein-rich bean, the proprietors of Main Street’s new Mediterranean/Israeli eatery Chickpea have had a tireless but rewarding past few years, having gone from launching their hit food truck to opening their first restaurant in just a year and a half. The brick and mortar version, opened in late July, is the first venture of its kind for owners Rotem Tal and Itamar Shani, both originally from Israel. The once humble chickpea has been elevated.
For both Tal and Shani, cooking runs in the family — something they bonded over after meeting. “My uncle owns six hummus restaurants in Israel,” says Tal. “Itamar grew up with his mother’s traditional Israeli cooking and has been working on a cookbook since the age of eight. Together me and him built this thing that became Chickpea.”
Chickpea’s first iteration was a simpler operation. Tal started selling homemade hummus to students at UBC with the branding The Chill Chickpea. At the time, Shani was working on a friend’s food truck. “We went on a road trip to Portland for inspiration and we also watched the movie ‘Chef.’ After that, we were set on the idea,” Tal continues. While Shani set up the food truck, Tal went back to Israel and told his uncle “show me what you’ve got!” and worked with him for a few months. After returning, the pair launched the Chickpea food truck in April 2016. It didn’t take long to become one of Vancouver’s most popular, usually parking outside of craft breweries or at festivals.
“Chickpea is the same delicious Mediterranean food as the truck, but it’s now vegan and we have a ton of new dishes,” says Shani. The menu boasts an almost intimidating array of options, with helpful explainers for the more traditional or extravagant dishes, such as Hafla: a sharing experience with many small plates. “All of our food is from back home with our own Chickpea magic touch,” he continues. On the topic of back home, Tal mentions, “The way there’s pizza places everywhere here? In Israel you have hummus places. It’s the food for everyone.”
Chickpea has been busy from opening day. It’s gone beyond expectations and the owners see a sustainable future for their unique brand. Tal says, “It’s been amazing to see with my own eyes people enjoying our creation. Eventually we want to start a farm and expand.” While a Chickpea empire may exist one day, they’re taking it one day at a time for now. “I still want to be able to travel,” Tal adds. “I go back to my apartment and cat and that’s all I need.”
Chickpea is located at 4298 Main Street.