It’s 2016 and falafel wraps are taking Europe by storm. Far more than just a meal for vegetarians the essentially lopsided fried or baked ball of chickpeas cradled in a flat-bread is a new food trend you cannot ignore!
It was in London, back in the 90s when I first tried this exotic chickpea based concoction. That was before the falafel craze really kicked in. I was also 4, so my memory is slightly jaded. Not only was this 18 years ago but I was with my dad and I’d just seen the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang musical and I was scarred from the Child Catcher in it. However, that was a long time ago so I’ve gotten over it. Honestly scary stuff.
The main thing the wanderer, reader, explorer, needs to remember when approaching this guide is that the nature of falafel is simple. For it to be excellent and enjoyed thoroughly one must not focus on the embellishment within the actual falafel ball, but the essence of the ingredients needs to be fresh with a capital F. What’s even better is that with falafel you can enjoy a plethora of funky toppings that make this vegetarian ball of deliciousness a real treat, both when slightly inebriated or just for a bog-standard work lunch. The core of the falafel is really just a couple of ingredients amalgamated into a two-bite size ball. The coeliac sufferers amongst you can rejoice as the true falafel can be gluten-free!
Going out for a meal is always great but falafel can be made at home, with falafel burgers being a brilliant variation to the traditional fried ball. But if this is appears too crafty for you, worry not, falafel may be a middle eastern specialty but Europe’s cultural diversity means you can sample some fine falafel wherever you may be.
Africa – Rome, Italy
I grew up in Italy where falafel seems to have appeared only recently on the food scene. In fact, knowing where to stop for a good falafel stop in the capital can prove to be a tricky task. But fear not, my connections and expertise have identified a little place nestled in the heart of the eternal city. The restaurant calls itself Africa. Not one for originality, their take on the falafel is very simple, but I am confident it is the best one in the city. Eloquently translated to “polpette fritte” aka fried meatballs, the falafel is cheap (€3.50 a portion), the ingredients meat-free and the dish is a starter. A dollop of hummus to go with that shouldn’t go amiss!
Maroush – Berlin, Germany
Known for its minimal techno, trendy cafes and affordable housing Berlin is also bubbling with Turkish influence, with one of the largest Turkish immigrant populations in Europe. This influence can especially be seen in one of Berlin’s boroughs with the densest Turkish population, the particularly the well-known pseudo Shoreditch area, Kreuzberg, so the falafel you find here amongst the divine kebabs are really top-notch. Maroush however is a MUST and here are three reasons why. The wrap, resembling a cloud both in shape and texture melts in your mouth. It’s also a round bap shape rather than the traditional folded wrap so this makes it easier to eat as well as creating the correct distribution of falafel to topping to garlic sauce to chilli sauce in a glorious way. This is because the falafel is crumbly it scatters appropriately on to the cloud-like pitta. For toppings I’d highly recommend the aubergine and if you’re feeling super hungry like we were then whack in halloumi for an extra 50 cents. With under €10 you can have a large falafel wrap, which will happily fill you up. Maroush is open every day till 2am if you’re keen for a midnight snack.
Felafalicious – London
Despite despising the name, I’m going to go ahead and say that Felafalicious is actually delicious because the salad options here make it stand out. Located in the BoxPark in Shoreditch the wrap is only £4. The salad box however is £7. The wrap is studded with crispy sweet potato and copiously filled with any salad of your choosing. A personal favourite, the red cabbage, because everything with a touch of colour makes food a whole lot more appetising.
Szalom Falafel – Krakow
I went to Krakow in January last year when it was so cold my toes were frozen, making this hearty meal an absolute treat. It was also a treat when you are too full of pierogis and you can’t attempt to eat munch down on yet another mediocre pizza. Slazom is the king of falafel in Krakow. The falafel here is really special. They are light, fluffy and bursting with flavor. A perfect balance of soft on the inside and crispy on the outside and the lemon sauce is dreamlike. It was a bit pricey however it is definitely worth it!
Nile Valley – Edinburgh
Last but not least. If you are ever up north in Scotland, then this small falafel shop is a must. The décor is basic but having been around for over 10 years they’ve really built a reputation for themselves. The restaurant is small, with basic décor but this makes for an intimate sit down meal. If not take-away is always an option and weather permitting, a walk down Chapel Street will make for a lovely accompaniment. The chilli sauce to accompany the falafel is really, really quite fiery, so brave it if you will! This South African restaurant is rumoured to offer the best falafel in town. And it’s BYOB so you can’t really ask for anything more?
So whether you are nostalgic of the middle eastern flavours of your heritage or from back home, or are curious to explore different flavours and current food trends – the falafel and all its wondrous varieties is spreading throughout Europe, make sure you don’t miss out!