Israel's Favorite Fast Food
In the mood for a quick, hot snack? Grab half a falafel. Or if you’re really hungry, stroll around to your local falafel stand and buy a whole one. Soft, fresh pita, crammed with hot, crunchy, spicy, cumin-scented chickpea fritters, chopped cucumbers and tomatoes – all well drizzled over with tehinah …tasty, filling, and nutritious. Can it get better?
It gets better. On offer are all kinds of pickles and hot peppers; a variety of salads; thin white slices of onions, dotted with crimson sumac herb; amba, a mango-based curry sauce; and a heavy shmear of humous. I love a good drizzle of that spicy yellow amba, myself. (Recipes for the main falafel ingredients at the end of this post.)
If your order comes wrapped in a lafa flatbread, you’ll hardly be able to finish it. Unless you wash it all down with a cold beer.
Pita on the left, Lafa on the right.
People who seem entirely secular may insist on that their food be kosher. Most falafel stands display a hechsher attesting to the place’s kashrut.
Any day, you can see people standing at the local falafel joint, wolfing down the goodies.
The falafel balls – chickpea fritters – are hand-made, formed and fried right under your eyes.
Hoppin' hot falafel balls
The vegetables and pickles arrived fresh from the shouk that morning: Israelis love vegetables and are picky about quality.
Salads with tehina and ambah bottles
Everyone has their favorite falafel stand. Some neighborhoods have two or more stands in hot competition.
On the right-hand side of the street...
On the left hand side of the street.
Here is a tiny, traditional falafel stand planted down before the Six-Day War. The original owners immigrated from Persia in the early 1950s, during the austerity years. The husband saved his lirot and set up this stand, which has remained the same ever since. As has the family recipe.
The grandmother allowed me to take photos, but was none too pleased about it.
A modern falafel stand, with a couple of shwarma grills for variety.
I visited four falafel stands in town. The owners became evasive when I asked which seasoning they consider the most important. Apparently everyone has his own secret recipe, usually a family formula handed down from parent to child. One man opened up just a little.
“Garlic is part of every recipe,” he said, “But some like cumin to dominate, while others like lots of parsley and cilantro. Some include breadcrumbs, some include flour. But the most important seasoning? The joy you have making it!”
Recipe for falafel, courtesy of Epicurious.
Recipe for pita, illustrated with photos.
Recipe for amba courtesy of Recipezaar and the wonderful Mirj.
Recipe for tehina, again from Recipezaar and Mirj.