I really enjoy a good falafel, but there are certain rules to falafel eating that I have had to learn the hard way. In an effort to spare you, dear reader, some of this unnecessary anguish, I present herein a brief guide to falafel eating.
Lesson #1: Beware of Sitting Balls
The first rule for buying falafel is not to make the purchase unless you yourself have seen the falafel balls come out of the deep fryer and put into the serving bin. The taste difference of hot, fresh falafel, when compared with falafel that has sat around, even for just 10 minutes, is huge. The hot falafel is a delight—its crispy outside wonderfully offset by the soft chickpea dough inside. Cold (even luke-warm) falafel balls are a nightmare of congealed cooking oil. So next time you approach a falafel stand, beware. If no one is there and you just saunter right up to the counter, the falafel worker will surely want to give you the balls that are in the bin, and you will have no way of knowing if they are fresh. At this point, if you are Israeli, you will insist that new balls be made or that you be allowed to taste the sitting balls. But, if you are like me, you will be a little reluctant to question the sitting balls’ quality. Better to slyly wait to the side as you scope out, the situation, and when either new balls have been brought out, or old balls finished (probably by tourists), that’s the time to pounce.
Lesson #2: Hold the Harif
When ordering any falafel in Israel, you will immediately be asked two questions: The first question, “Do you want humus,” is clearly a no-brainer. You certainly want a chickpea sauce to accompany your fried chickpeas (and later on, I recommend putting tehina sesame paste on the whole pita sandwich, though you might have to ask for this). The second question, concerning”harif” (literally, “spicy”), is another matter altogether. The hot-pepper paste ruined many of my falafels during my first years here. Why? Because I thought that real men order harif. And so when they asked if I wanted harif, I would masculinely say “a little”—and that “little” would render my falafel sandwich practically inedible. Today I have matured. I proudly say a loud “no” to the proffered harif: better to be a wimp than to be burned.
Lesson #3: Mind Your Beanness
I’m not sure how I should write about this in mixed company, but one needs to realize that the chickpea is a legume, a bean. It follows therefore, that falafel and humus create certain gaseous challenges to the human body. And so if you are a fan of Beano or a similar product, by all means use it with your falafel meal.
A word about the salads that go with the falafel: Don’t be bashful to tell the worker that you want more of one salad or less of another. Personally, I usually pass on the french fries in favor of extra “Israeli” salad (tomatoes and cucumbers cut small), and, if available, red and/or white cabbage salads. I feel that unless I have visual testimony to the fries’ freshness, the oil-sogged high caloric addition to my meal is not worth it. As for insisting that the french fries be made fresh before my eyes, there are limits even to an Israeli falafel worker’s patience. B’tayavon—Bon Apetit.
Teddy Weinberger, Ph.D., is Director of Development for a consulting company called Meaningful. He made aliyah with his family in 1997 from Miami, where he was an assistant professor of religious studies. Teddy and his wife, Sarah Jane Ross, have five children.