Guest post: falafel in India!

Thanks very much to Laura for this review.
Chill Out Hostel Hampi Falafel Hanoi

Having tried and failed to review Australian falafel I have to say I was not optimistic of success in India. How wrong I was.Here in Hampi it seems there is not a menu without an Israeli section offering the delights of falafel.

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Where’s the sauce?!?

Well what you see is what I got exactly as the menu said: falafel, salad, chips, humus, pita. Crunchy, uncomplicated and in the eating uncompromising. The chips were a real highlight perhaps with a touch of turmeric for that authentic Indian touch. The humus was fine if non-descript but the pita was lovely and fluffy though somewhat redundant on a side plate. The falafel itself was tasty and crunchy, did I say crunchy, very crunchy. The biggest disappointment for me was the salad which was just cucumber and tomato. Afterwards I tentatively suggested the addition of onion and mentioned something about chilli.

Pluses: Good service, great music, unbeatable location. Marks out of 5 = 2.5.

PS will try to try some more Hampi falafel when I have fully recovered from my non falafel related food poisoning!

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Chick Re-visited : a Brexit Special

Chick Falafel, Brent Cross Shopping Centre: North London 

We have reviewed this particular eatery before, but we at ratemyfalafel.com are nothing if not thorough – we welcome new insights and perspectives. Thanks to this weeks guest contributor for this gem: Marie @planteatingposts (insta)

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Well, just because the entire country has taken leave of its senses doesn’t mean I’m going to miss lunch. And I’ve found a very fresh and highly recommendable falafel chain called Chick, in an unlikely place – the middle of Brent Cross shopping mall. I’d gone there to blank out the political insanity and to try to buy a coat in the sales. But oh Falafel community! These are difficult and uncertain times, particularly those of us who like our food international. This week – in and out of the UK parliament – businesses and commentators have raised the likelihood of dire Brexit-related food shortages. Meaty fast food chains like KFC, who experienced a chicken shortage only last year, and Macdonalds, have written to the Prime Minister, begging not to crash out of Europe. A third of UK food comes from elsewhere. Non meat eaters are not immune. Lettuce and other hothouse-grown salad ingredients  will apparently be at a premium. Responses to these warnings have ranged from stiff upper lips types on TV news vox pops, telling us that going without will ”do us good after so much plenty” – to one Unionist Northern Irish DUP politician being overheard by the Green MP sniggering “let them eat chips”. ( The irony that chips are potatoes and his island has a certain history with having food withheld, and shortages, evidently lost on him).

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So what about falafel? Against the tide, I’m optimistic. Today’s pitta ( choice of white or brown bread – or a box with no bread ) was full of carrot and red cabbage, raw onions, plus pickles. Now I’m pretty sure we grow all that here – so that’s fine. Mine had a tad too much tahini sauce but it was served with plentiful crunch and a smile. The falafel were hot, freshly fried and – delicious. The ingredients for those and the hummus – chick peas, are imported from India and Turkey. So I think we’re covered for non-EU
sources there,  if we keep our wits about us. We could start stockpiling too,  as dried chick peas and sesame (tahini) keep for ages.

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All in all, it’s a good little outfit and very welcome in the grimness of shopping in Brent Cross. As I caught the bus home, I allowed myself two crumbs of optimism in this lunatic week; firstly that healthy falafels are surviving as a relatively cheap and popular none-meat fast food concession, which might even steal some custom from KFC and Maccas, and secondly, such is the unique combination of ingredients in a falafel, that not even their hardest and most insane efforts, will stop the tories ruining my lunch.

Chick Falafel, Brent Cross Shopping Centre: North London
NW4 3FP Hendon, Barnet, United Kingdom.

https://www.facebook.com/chickfalafelbrentcross/

Price- £6.50 for a giant pitta falafel with salad and pickles – pricey but huge and easily feeds two people.
Customer Service – Nice people.

(Anti) Fascist falafel?

 

So. We moved to Italy. We were travelling around Italy for our honeymoon, seeing all sorts of beautiful things and it seemed like as good as any place to rest our heads. We were a bit tired of moving around all the time and having to re-pack the f**king car every 5 minutes. So, Nettuno it was. A lovely sea side town not too far from Rome. The apartment we rented (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, sea view) was cheaper than what we were paying in Bristol for literally a shoe box, and my partner was able to find a job teaching English in a nearby town of Latina almost instantly. Everything was going swimmingly, and in fact I was swimming in the sea most days.

 

Then. Winter hit. It was suddenly too cold to swim in the sea. And I couldn’t help but notice all the fascist graffiti. It hadn’t been at all obvious with our rose-tinted glasses on when we first moved in, but more and more swastikas and ‘fasci’ symbols appeared as if from nowhere, not so much in Nettuno but in all the neighbouring towns. I took it as a personal mission to ‘correct’ as many as possible with my trusty spray paint and paint pens, that I took to keeping on me at all times. The bizarre thing was that some of it was written in English – ‘support your local fascist crew’ – when Italian fascism is based on ‘Italy for Italians’ – why reach out in English?

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The message has now been changed to ‘support your local anti-fascist crew’

Latina, where my partner worked, turned out to be a man-made town built upon drained swamp land, designed by none other than Mussolini himself. In fact, the inhabitants didn’t seem to have a bad word to say about the mass murderer. But we didn’t know this at first.

Hungry, we were in Latina having gone into the nearby mountains for a day with our good friend QUAID who was visiting. Where could we grab a bite to eat? Naturally most places were shut as we were once again not hungry in the designated dining periods, but we managed to find somewhere with lights on and piled into the café. We sat down and waited for the waiter to come to us. Looking around, suddenly I realised that there was a familiar bald looking man staring at us from a bottle of wine on a neighbouring table. It couldn’t be?  I nudged the others. Taking a furtive glance at the walls of this otherwise sparsely decorated café, I realised they were covered in pictures of il Duce himself. There were about 20 photos of Mussolini. Horrified, we scuttled out, taking refuge in a kebab place. Kebab places can’t be fascist, we reasoned. Anyway, I was sick of ‘pizza rossa’ and marinara by this stage and welcomed the idea of a hearty falafel wrap. How had we ended up living in an overwhelmingly fascist area? Apparently, the region where we live, Lazio, is well known to be full of fascists. It would be funny, 2 anti-fascist activists accidently living in the heart of nationalist Italy, if it wasn’t so bloody depressing.

 

Istanbul Pascia Kebap, Latina.

As previously mentioned, falafels in Italy thus far are pretty hit and miss. So, I wasn’t holding out for anything particularly special with this dining experience. I was just happy that the walls were covered in random pictures from all over the world rather than a stern-faced dictator. No Erdogan in sight either (it was a Turkish kebab place). Once again, the falafel had the option of coming with chips inside the wrap, which pleased me and were able to choose from a variety of sauces and salad.

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The falafel was fried and had a satisfying green colour when bitten into. It was well wrapped, and was massive. The chili sauce was actually fairly spicy, and the staff were very friendly. Another positive was that it was actually open for business, you were able to order and enjoy food at the disgusting time of 6.30pm. I know, madness. However, all in all, it did lack something. It was OK, but it didn’t have quite what I was looking for. Not a bad falafel, but nothing special. It was also quite expensive – 6 euros for falafel, chips and a drink.

 

[UPDATE] On a second visit, my husband was given a discount for wearing his Kurdish scarf, by another woman working there who was Kurdish herself. Win.

Review

Falafel – 4/5

Bread- 3/5

Salad – 3.5/5

Customer Service – 4.5/5

Intoxication 0/5

 

 

Quick, Easy, Delicious cook-at-home Falafel. (disclaimer: not quick, not easy)  

*thanks to our guest falafel writer this week. The editor is currently travelling/honeymoon-ing and will be back shortly. (Don’t worry, falafel has featured heavily in these…travels and will be discussed at length during the next few posts).

Quick, Easy, Delicious cook-at-home Falafel. (disclaimer: not quick, not easy)

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I’ve eaten so many falafels in my life – made by so many establishments and nationalities of chef – Australian, Lebanese (hard to beat) British, Israeli, Turkish, Moroccan and Egyptian –  yet I  never knew it was such a controversial dish.

The origin of falafel has been hotly-contested, although it now seems to be generally agreed that it was originally made in Egypt with Fava beams, while the Israelis developed the chickpea version.

If you decide to embark on making your own homemade falafel, this hot contesting continues in cookbooks and on recipe websites and apps. There’s a range of views about the best ingredients and the best method.

I thought I might whip some up and save some money in the process.

First off, I needed to weigh up the need for speed and instant gratification, versus authenticity and texture.

Most aficionado middle eastern chef types are very clear that canned chickpeas are not even worth the discussion. Many feel the need to emphasise this point in CAPITAL LETTERS mid-recipe. Buy the beans, soak the beans overnight, do not cook the beans, do NOT use canned beans. It’s to do with moisture content, apparently.

Other recipe sites are cool with cans (and hence, speedy results.)

I decided to go hard-core and was pleasantly surprised how cheap dry chickpeas are for a kilo bag. You only need about a quarter of a bag to make a dozen.

The inclusion of baking powder and flour is also cause for debate and dispute, with those in either camp warning of dire consequences…

They all agree that some ingredients must be fresh – so you need to go shopping and make sure you get things that you probably don’t currently have –  like flat leaf parsley and fresh coriander.  Make sure that sesame seeds, sunflower oil (or other non-olive oil), ground cumin and other spices of choice are all in your house before you begin.

Another essential check before you start is some sort of food mixer/ blender. I have a cheap, complicated, multi-part  Ninja device,  which is neither a kitchen food processor nor a blender. It turned out fine, but you will find it very hard to make these falafel without owning something that can whiz up the uncooked soaked beans.

falafel jerusalem

I eventually chose the recipe of middle eastern Israeli sensation duo Yotam Ottolenghi and his Palestinian chef partner Sami Tamimi from their cookbook “Jerusalem”.

This actually recommended using a meat grinder – which (obviously) I neither own – nor know anyone who does. It also recommends baking powder and plain flour which other recipes avoid.

So, a full day after thinking about rustling up these quick friend snacks, I had finally got the soaked beans and all the fresh herbs assembled.

It was all pretty logical for the next step – chopping things up (garlic, onion, herbs) blitzing the beans and mixing it all together to produce a very pleasant bright green concoction.

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The oil can go in a saucepan – 7cm in depth and hot enough to bubble up around the falafel mix. Creating the falafel with your hand and tablespoons is tricky as the mixture falls apart.  That’s why you often see little plug-like falafel shapers in falafel vans and restaurants. Indeed there’s a picture of a happy chef in the Jerusalem recipe book wielding one; another piece of equipment that would help at home but which no normal person possesses.

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It’s also near impossible to get sesame seeds on both sides.

But after a few minutes frying – and holding my nerve as they became quite dark – the first two falafel were on draining paper and ready for tasting.

                                           Verdict? Crunchy and authentic.

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They could use salt after cooking, but sauces or hummus deal with that. My non-vegetarian husband deemed them “aromatic and crispy”.

All that was now required was to make all the others, clean up lots of bowls, chopping boards, kitchen-whizzing bits and blades and oily spoons and pots, and then finally eat some myself.

falafel salad pitta
Final Analysis : delicious and cheap – but what a bloody faff! I really doubt I would do it again (although I may try the quick canned chickpea version and report back.) It is probably more fun if there are loads of you (to eat immediately and help clean up), and if you are a well-prepared type. Also, they do keep for a few days but are no longer crispy or as good.

Thank you to our guest reviewer this week! She wished to remain anonymous.

Magic Falafel by ANON.

It’s rare to find yourself in Camden Lock market on a weekday unless you work there, are a tourist, or a teenager looking for something illicit. I was just hungry after walking from town. It was sweltering and jammed full, with people lining the sides of the canal, the water bright green with summer algae.  Camden is a place renown for fast, varied, portable international food – much of it vegetarian. It even boasts a Mildred’s. The street food stalls snake around three or four alleyways in the market, with vendors cooking in small box kitchens and vying for passing trade.  They’ve taken to laying out samples on their counters to make their offerings stand out and appeal. But in the heat, it all just looked congealed and fly-blown. Despite its veggie credentials, there was very little fresh food on offer in the market. Lots of basic meat in bread/wrap combinations – tacos, burgers, various Asian specialities wrapped in a takeaway layer of various rice papers or chapatti – but nothing with any crunch.  It’s noticeable in the new laudable hipster love affair with plant-based diets that many of the insta/facebook sites and markets do tend to be of the deep-fried, processed faux meat, highly sugar-laced confectionary type. There’s a lot of cake and baked goods that you’d never look at twice normally, being scoffed in the name of new found vegan life.  It might be a symptom of the difficulty in carting fresh and chopped salad and vegetables in confined street food vendor vans and stalls. It might be nutritional ignorance – or everyone’s having a lot of cheat diet days. Whatever the reason, it’s great to turn Vegan to save the planet, but you have to save yourself too, and only a balanced diet of varied plants will do that.

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Which is why falafel is such a perfect meal. A falafel wrap just cannot be a falafel wrap unless it contains mountains of crisp salad and pickle.  A truly wonderful falafel – street food or not – always come with that right combination of masses of varied, fresh and crunchy salad, hotly spiced falafel, perfect creamy tahini sauce, sweet/sharp chilli sauce and soft pita. So it took a few forlorn wanders around the market (and even a look into Mildred’s) finally to come across a side alley with the glorious sight of a mountain of fresh carrots, purple cabbage, pickles, tomatoes and grilled aubergines calling to me like a siren to a sailor in the deep fried fog. It’s called Magic Falafel – and not only are they jolly nice people – their falafel roll is a masterpiece of stuffing pita with extraordinary amounts of crunch, bite and creaminess, for six pounds. They do boxed falafel too for those who eschew bread. But the pita comes in a nice tough bag, easy to take away and eat by the canal with a view of the algae and Amy impressionists, and strong enough to take what’s left (it’s huge) home.

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Magic Falafel. Camden Lock Markets.

Bread – 3/5

Falafel- 4/5

Salad – 4/5

Extras 4/5

Intoxication – 0/5

Many Thanks to our special guest reviewer ANONYMOUS this week!

 

WE DO NOT SELL NITROUS OXIDE

Apologies to all the falafel lovers out there. Your falafel stuffed author has been too busy watching TV and complaining about the cold to write any reviews for a while. Life is hard.
Well, we moved to another part of Bristol. One of the primary reasons to move was to appreciate a whole new range of falafel eateries, this time in Easton. Stapleton Road and St Marks Road both boast several places to find falafel, all within a stones throw of our tiny, mouldy flat (complete with infuriating downstairs neighbours).
Let me summarise the falafel thus far
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Al-Waha has it all. Pizza, Indian curry, Afghan food and, falafel. Having sampled most of these foods, I can quite firmly say that all of the food is cheap in taste and in price. The curry is overly greasy with murky vegetables swimming in fat, and the pizza is made with that weird fake cheese that is in all cheap pizza places (which is only edible when drunk). The falafel was equally shit. They didn’t even attempt to contain the ingredients within the so-called ‘wrap’, just letting it slop all over the greasy paper. Far too dry and far too onion-y, the falafel came with a tantalising smudge of hummus which did nothing to relieve the dryness. I was having one of my periodic no drinking spells, which naturally made the falafel even more depressing, along with life in British winter. Why did I decide not to drink? It is one of life’s small pleasures, along with falafel of course (good falafel, not shit falafel). I can’t wait to start drinking again. Anyway…
Bread 2/5 (was standard but the wrapping was terrible)
Falafel 1/5
Salad 1/5 (too onion-y)
Minus points for scant hummus
good points – price (£3 with chips)
Also, very un- pretentious. No frills. I like that.
Baba Ganoush – Stapleton Rd
‘WE DO NOT SELL NITROUS OXIDE HERE’ reads the sign on the door.

Good to know, I mused as we entered into the café with my brother and my niece. Techno was blasting out at lunchtime. The walls seems to be ‘boom town ‘ themed, which was weird, until I realised that the owners had helped set up the festival. Having been to Boom Town Fair many times, this café seemed to be perfect. Rave meets falafel. The seats were comfy. The nervous waitress took our order, seemingly disconcerted to have a 5 year old in tow with us. She was probably high.  We accidentally ordered a too large quantity of food, all mezze dishes, including falafel and hummus.

It was far too much food. It was also very overpriced for lunch.
The food was really tasty, but my niece didn’t agree. I think she probably wanted a cheese sandwich or something.
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price – too much
falafel – 4/5 good
bread- 4/5
Salad – 4/5
In all fairness, I would like to go back there again and just get the falafel wrap for a truly accurate analysis.
stay tuned for my next post – “the proposal”

Library Falafel – Tough Times, High Hopes

Munching on a cheeky lunch break falafel at Wick Road Library,  I couldn’t help wonder if this would be the last time I falafel-ed it in this particular library. It was one of the 17 libraries in Bristol marked for closure and the decision was to be made in a few weeks time (December 4th). I scoffed the falafel pensively, it was good. A decent amount of hummus, no need for extra sauces, not too big, not too dry. I stared out of the staff room window which over looked the garish new build flats that had popped up some months before, blocking the access to our garden gate entirely. Maybe that was part of their evil scheme. It was common knowledge that the whole site would be turned into un-affordable flats as soon as the library shuts its door- this was lucrative real estate. It was good falafel, but would I come to Brislington just to eat it when the library shut down? I doubt it. I tried to savour it, but gobbled it down too fast (I’m only human).

 

I had been disappointed by Marvin Rees’ standard reply to the passionate letter I had written to him about libraries the previous week, using my personal experiences and making the argument that libraries play a vital role in supporting other services – this shortsighted approach will put more pressure on other services – it will not save money, nor lives. At least the council had released a motivating new consultation with the catchy tag line “tough times, high hopes” – together, we can do it! A more cynical person than I would think the marketing team were laughing in our faces.

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Wick road was one of the libraries I was most upset about, in fact. It was a well used busy library. Just this morning we had a computer class and a craft class, in the afternoon our knitting group would arrive. Someone was helping someone with a job search on one table, another group were having a quiet work meeting. The library was also often full of young parents and kids. Baby bounce and rhyme was always packed with babies – a little too much so if you ask me (spoiler alert – I HATE SINGING BABY SONGS, THAT’S WHY I DON’T WORK IN A NURSERY). The saddest thing about it though, is that there really isn’t anywhere else to go – no community centre nearby – just a small parade of shops. Libraries ceased to be about books ages ago – now they are spaces – to read and borrow books if they want, to use computers or simply be – no one charging you money for just existing.

My break time was over, my breath onion-y. It was worth it. It could be my last (lunch break) falafel. Perhaps that was worse than even losing my job or the declining literacy rates in children and adults. Where was the humanity?

Now to the review

Cafe – Sandy Park Rd, Bristol BS4 3PG

Falafel – 4/5

Salad – 3/5 (nothing special there)

Bread – 3/5 (standard)

Level of intoxication  – minus 1/5 ( I was the most sober I had ever been, 5 weeks into a no drinking challenge. Tough times, high hopes?)

Hummus +++