One food that, in addition to hummus, is identified with the Middle East is falafel. Like hummus, falafel is a bone of competition between different countries, religions and eateries, all of which claim to produce “The world’s best falafel.” But what, after all, is falafel? Falafel balls are fried balls of hummus – ground chickpeas – or ground broad beans (ful).
Falafel started out in ancient Egypt as a substitute for meat. Generally speaking, it is served with tahini and vegetable salad in a pita (traditional Arab flat bread), on a plate or even in a baguette. Although originating in Egypt, falafel has become a central dish in Israel; songs in Hebrew have even been written about it, such as “The Falafel Song,” performed by the Ayalon band in the 1950s. You can find falafel in any Israeli city; however, you might ask, where are the best places in the country to get falafel? Here are a few recommendations.
In Northern Israel, there are many falafel eateries. In Nazareth, there is Diana Restaurant, 51 Paul VI St.; some people even claim that it serves the best falafel in Israel. Over forty years ago, on the ground floor of the building housing the Diana movie theater, Duhul Safdi’s father set up his falafel stall. The eatery preserves its high standards of quality and relies on a traditional recipe backed by a list of side orders, which are no less impressive than the falafel itself. In the city of Acre (Akko), Israel’s up and coming culinary center in recent years, you can find Arafi’s Falafel, located on Farhi Square at the entrance to the city’s marketplace; if you choose Arafi’s, we recommend that you order the falafel together with their red cabbage salad. In Haifa, there is Michel’s Falafel, 21 Wadi Street, and there is also The Elders’ Falalel (Falafel Hazekenim), 18 Wadi Street – two eating establishments, each with its own group of enthusiasts and located opposite one another. The falafel is terrific in both eateries; however, whereas Michel’s specialty is its garlic spread, the Elders’ offers an absolutely delicious tahini.
In Tel Aviv, there is Falafel Hakosem (which literally means The Magician’s Falafel), located at 1 King Solomon St. Whereas the well-known falafel eateries are simple stalls with a delightful aroma of fried chickpea balls, the Magician’s provides patrons with a unique eating experience: The stall has been carefully decorated, the background music is wonderful and the staff wear uniforms and serve the falafel dishes like true gourmet delicacies. The falafel balls at the Magician’s have plenty of green vegetables and are served in fresh pita bread baked on the premises in a unique steam oven. If you are looking for a healthier falafel serving, try the whole-wheat pita (also baked on the premises). At Dr. Saadi’s Falafel, 45 King George St., you can enjoy an authentic Yemenite experience – Yemenite-style falafel full of parsley and coriander, served with exquisite sechug, a spicy Yemenite sauce. One of the best and cheapest falafel sandwiches can be obtained in Tel Aviv at Tadmor Falafel, 98 Salma Road. The beautiful falafel balls come with a terrific flavor of hummus blended with herbs; if you are interested in additional side orders, you can find them in the eating establishment’s small, but impressive, salad bar.
Kadouri’s Falafel is located at the service station at 59 Ramatayim St. in Hod Hasharon. The small cabin on this major traffic artery serves only falafel and side dishes such as a finely chopped salad and hot peppers; the falafel is served in magnificent pita sandwiches. In Jerusalem there is Shalom’s Falafel, a falafel eatery that has long been part of the city’s ambiance; a few years ago, it relocated back to its old address – 34 Bezalel St. It serves its falafel in a uniquely Jerusalem pita sandwich – eshtanur, which is smaller and thicker than a laffa (large Arab flat bread). The falafel is served with hilbeh (a tangy Yemenite condiment made of fenugreek), sechug and a lovely tomato salad; this is unquestionably an exceptional falafel sandwich. If you are visiting southern Israel, you should pay a visit to Hafalafel Hayarok (literally, The Green Falafel) in Be’er Sheva. This eatery was established 52 years ago by Margalit and her husband Zachariah and is today situated in the less hectic section of the city’s downtown pedestrian mall at 70 Keren Kayemet Le-Yisrael St. At this stall or tiny restaurant, traditional falafel balls are served, based on a recipe that has not changed since the place was opened and “will never change,” according to their son.