Voulez vous L’as du Falafel? Ordering falafel in French

L'as du Fallafel

I love falafel. A good falafel is crispy and savory and not dripping with oil, and an overwhelmingly wonderful comfort food. Who knew to transform chickpeas into such heavenly food?

A falafel, however good on its own, can take on phenomenal heights in a pita sandwich. A good falafel sandwich is just as much about the ingredients and accompaniments as it is about the falafel itself. I love a dash of hot sauce in mine,whether it’s Sriracha sauce (aka “rooster sauce” in our household for the rooster on the plastic bottle–or as one of my friends boldly named it, “cock sauce”), or some other piquante (but not salsa) sauce. Oh, and there must be cucumbers and tomatoes (ala “Israeli salad”) and tahini and even good old roasted eggplants. At home, because I favor making hummus, our falafel sandwiches like our chicken schnitzel sandwiches come with hummus instead of tahini.

I have had a number of decent falafel sandwiches, and only a few excellent falafel sandwiches–the best ones in Israel a few months ago, and our “local” Falafel Drive In.

And, we were told, that the falafels at L’as du Falafels would soon join that pantheon.

Could a falafel (in Paris?!) beat the wonderful Falafel Drive In of San Jose? Falafel Drive In has the BEST falafel in the SF/Bay Area, and my husband and I will often make a 100 mile round trip drive just to grab some falafel. That’s how good the falafel sandwiches are. Plus they offer a great banana shake to eat that sandwich with.

Falafel Drive In

But there we were, in Paris, hunting down some falafel place. Falafel–in Paris? Land of baguettes and cream and cheese? Yup.

When I asked my friends for recommendations in Paris, nearly everyone cried, “L’as du Falafel in the Marais!” And David Lebovitz, not a personal friend but someone whose respect I hold high, even listed it as #2 on his aptly named list of “10 Insanely Delicious Things You Shouldn’t Miss in Paris. Number two. Behind the #1 item of macarons at Pierre Hermes (the same macarons that Connie told me that I must try because “they will change your life.”) Well drats. I didn’t have time to hunt down and try Pierre Hermes and change my life. My life was unchanged, my feet firmly planted on the cobblestones. I’ll try the falafel instead!

So hence, the pursuit of falafel in Paris. Not in Israel (where the falafels are delectable-I haven’t been anywhere else in the Middle East to try), but Paris.

The thought of a falafel place in Paris was incredibly intriguing to me. The Jews were all but eradicated from Paris during World War II–any close peek at memorial plaques in the Marais will play out a story–of great regret and grief, as Jews were handed over to the Nazis and subsequently murdered, after Paris’s rapid occupation. One plaque in particular touched my heart; carved on the stone was a story about how the principal, faculty, staff, and students of a Jewish school were sent to Auschwitz to die because they were Jews. There are very few Ashkenazi in Paris–but now, the Sephardim (Jews from outside Europe) have settled into the Jewish neighborhoods and made this a sort of falafel district.

So there we were–one Jew, grandson of a holocaust survivor and me, traipsing through the streets, my footsteps echoing deeply in my mind. This was not just a falafel trip, it was a trip of history and what the neighborhood had become once again.

The falafel corner (for there is a rival falafel eatery across the way from L’as du Falafel) is on the narrow street Rue des Rosiers that resembles Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter book series. At least, that’s what a friend told me when I pointed the picture of the alley and all the falafel eaters out to him. And it does look like Diagon Alley:

Crowd around L'as du Falafel

The street, quiet and gray, comes to life at this bustling corner. Falafel! Want some falafel? The proprietors cry, before guiding you over to the line and taking your order.

Here’s a fella that didn’t even bother to take off his motorcycle helmet before putting in his order:

L'as du Fallafel

The line can be long, but the line goes quickly–the workers at L’as du Falafel are well prepared in the wake of its popularity, facilitating orders in the long line and making sure things move efficiently.

And soon enough, you’re rewarded with a falafel, along with a dash of spicy hot sauce if you nod (vigorously, in our case).

L'as du Falafel

There are trash bags for you to dispose of the napkin in your hand (for you will eat the ENTIRE sandwich). I am thinking these are the ONLY public trash cans I ever saw in Paris or in France on the whole. Where DO the French throw away their garbage? Do they carry their trash all the home with them?

After days of decadent and wonderful French food, it began to wear on us. My husband and I live in a place where we can have different kinds of cuisines everyday–and in our multicultural household alone, we have the legacy of at least three different cuisines that inform our homecooking. So the falafel was a welcoming and surprising break between beouf bourguignon and cheeses and creams and souffle and steak (yes, poor us!).

The falafel was terrifically good. We demolished our sandwiches, our falafel eating experience and hunger helping us leave nary a stain on our clothes, spilling very little onto the sidewalk. I still stand by Falafel Drive in located in San Jose on San Carlos Blvd (close to Santana Row and Valley Fair Mall), but L’as du Falafel is a must when visiting in Paris. I’ll agree with the thousands of others who recommend this place with a big thumbs up.

And now–I must find a way to make falafel from scratch, here at home. Chickpeas, here I come!

20 responses to “Voulez vous L’as du Falafel? Ordering falafel in French

  1. Hi.

    I like falafel. I like the pictures of falafel on your blog. However, I thought it would be important to clear up some misconceptions regarding the words Jewish and Falafel.

    First, Jewish: Jewish, before the state of Israel, probably meant about a thousand things. There were European Jews, there were Arab Jews, there were Jews from Kryzgstan, and even in China.

    Next, Falafel: Falafel is an Arab food. To the extent that many groups of Arab Jews brought their cuisine (more Arab, obviously, than anything else) with them when they immigrated to Israel, it is a food that enjoys a great popularity–non-European, immigrant Jews and their children make up the majority of the Israeli population.

    So here is my point. Jewish people can like falafel, as can Scandinavians, but implying that falafel is a Jewish food (or even an Israeli one) is like saying that Szechuan cuisine is American simply because of its ubiquity.

    Just Saying.

  2. Omoo: I am no authority on things Jewish–but I do know that there are Sephardim and Ashkenazim (and I tried to differentiate them as you differentiate above). And though I do know falafel as an Israeli food, I also implied that it is pervasive throughout the Middle East and that I had not tasted falafel in other Middle Eastern countries to say anything about it.

    I have learned that food of the Middle Eastern region is as greatly in debate as literal boundary lines. That L’as du Falafel “happens to be” in the Marais or Jewish neighborhood of Paris is the topic here…not “whose cuisine originated falafels.”

    Thanks however, for saying that Jewish people are allowed to like falafels.

  3. every time someone tells me they’re going to paris, the first thing i say to them is “you MUST go to l’as du fallafel!!” and they look at me like i’m nuts, but it’s the first thing i want to eat when i’m in town, and i miss it when i’m not in paris. i actually dream about it! and, honestly, i don’t even think it is as good as it used to be ten years ago, but it’s still the best!

  4. I dunno about what Omoo was saying, but in France, Arabs usually sell ‘Kebab’ (‘which is yummy at well) rather than falafel. It’ss the same principle, rather with lame or turkey meat instead of the falafel. A ‘galette’ is the same thing in a tortilli-ish bread.

    I MISS falael. We don’t have it here in the south. Kebab abounds. You definitely got me hankering to take the TGV to Paris.

  5. hi
    even though i’m not totally fond of it, Good falafel, can be found in Lyon France mainly held by people from lebanon.

  6. On my first trip to Paris, I visited the Jewish Quarter purely out of interest in seeing much of what you described above in terms of history. In addition to the history, I found some of the best falafel ever!

    I had the same initial reaction as you did – falafel in Paris?? But I have returned since and it remains some of the best! I think it has to do with that marinated eggplant on top! But I think first place goes to a tiny shop in Tel Aviv near the bus station. mmmm!

  7. Hi, I meant no offense, and obviously I meant that it makes no difference who runs the Falafeleria or who eats its bounty. My belief, however, is that western support of the policies of the state of Israel (not for Israel itself) is founded on a multitude of misconceptions regarding the origin of the state, and indeed, who was a Jew and what was Judaism, before the current political identity was negatively created by European anti semitism. At this stage of the game, I would wonder whether there is any point to having the distinction of Ashkenazi and Sephardim at all.

    At the foudation of any claim of sovereignty or control, is a parallel claim to ownership of culture–art, cuisine, historical narrative. Such claims should be examined rigorously–though I agree it should never interrupt the joy of eating falafel.

    Here in Oakland, as in Paris, there is a restaurant that claims to serve Israeli cuisine; do the math and the research and you’ll find the cuisine is in fact, Arab–though in those Arab lands of its provenance, it was most likely enjoyed by Muslims, Christians and Jews at one time. As a final analogue, one of the hallmarks of Bay Area cuisine is the world famous burrito. This does not mean that the cuisine was originated in mid western liberal arts colleges. And again, I like your blog, I ain’t trying to cause no fussin’ here abouts.

  8. My dearest raindrop,
    Falafel? Lyon?
    We want addresses.

  9. hi Sassy,

    one of the most popular is the Adonis. The restaurant is split into 2:
    – one side for european taste kebab-falafel
    – a second side more traditionnal lebanon

    of course, i go for the second option. The taste is different (with secret spices like sliced mint leaves).

    The falafel is easy to find: a glowing blue shark is hanged above the entrance.

    the address here:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=lyon+france+rue+du+puits+Gaillot&sll=45.76795,4.83576&sspn=0.001684,0.003648&ie=UTF8&ll=45.768032,4.835057&spn=0.000842,0.001824&t=h&z=19&iwloc=addr&om=1

    A second kebab-falafel (also from lebanon) is Le Kebab d’or ie The Golden Kebab. What caught my attention is: the shop runs its own bread oven (whereas other kebabs are externally supplied with pita). And you know that in France, bread is an institution. so this speaks for itself.

    the Kebab d’or is located at the beginning of Rue Constantine:

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=lyon+france+2+rue+constantine&sll=45.7669,4.830873&sspn=0.000842,0.001824&ie=UTF8&ll=45.766468,4.831227&spn=0.003368,0.007296&t=h&z=17&iwloc=addr&om=1

  10. l’as du falafel! I used to live off this stuff in Paris! Thanks for the memory!

  11. I am originally from Lebanon and although, very subjectively, I believe that the Lebanese method of preparing falafel sandwiches is the best and most logical and most practical (i.e. longitudinal roll where the ingredients are laid down in neat parallel “lines” and the sandwich is tightly rolled up along the same “ingredient line”, thus allowing a true cross-section sampling of every ingredient in the sandwich in every bite, as opposed to a pita pocket with a large hole slashed on top of it and where all the ingredients are dumped inside it in successive “horizontal” layers), I must still admit that l’As du Fallafel, Rue des Rosiers, Paris, makes the ABSOLUTE BEST BEST BEST falafel sandwich outside of my own admittedly subjective preference both for taste of the falafel ball itself, the choice of accompanying veggies and sauces, and for the sandwich roll method.

    I’ve eaten falafel sandwiches in many countries prepared under different cuisines and techniques, and l’As really is THE ACE. No wonder they say: “Always imitated, never equaled”.

    BTW, who cares who invented falafel, and who can prove anything anyway? Just like Baklava, hummus, etc… they all transcend national / political / religious / social class lines. I say it is Israeli when an Israeli makes it, it’s Egyptian when an Egyptian makes it, it’s Moroccan if a Moroccan makes it, etc…

    Who made the very first one? Good luck finding that out! Enjoy the falafel, and forget the politics and the national pride.

    The sandwich at l’As is “magical”. It defies description, and yes, you do eat it all the way into the napkin you’re holding it with – and you do wish you ordered a spare. (sandwich AND napkins, that is).

  12. I Visited the L’as du Falafel on my first trip to Europe, my guide book said a must to visit! looking at your pictures of the restaurant brought a lot of good memories becouse a order my falafel right on that window, sense my return I been yearning for some falafels here in Dallas and what about donner kebabs, someone must know.
    I got to have it agian, please please

  13. I’ve been a long time L’As du Falafel customer. When visiting Paris it is one of my “must-go” destinations, along with the outdoor crepe-stand on Montmartre and Poisonniere (trust me on that one). This post reminds me that I am long overdue for a trip back to Paris, currency rates be damned!

  14. I enjoyed the article and the comments that follow. However, comparing the Falafel Drive In’s falafel and L’as du Falafel’s falafel is absurd. L’as falafel has incredible complexity, with grilled eggplant, marinated red cabbage, crunchy white cabbage, a couple of other crunchy veggies, incredible tahini and sauce and the best fried balls one will ever taste on a fresh and warm thick pita with all ingredients layered all the way to the top, creating an epiphany of flavors and textures with each and every bite. Falafel Drive In?!?, not even on the same planet. We just returned from a week in the Marais with at least one L’As falafel a day (except when closed on shabbat). We are now going thru withdrawal and finding anything similar in the bay area is just not possible, unfortunately. Why can’t someone make a falafel even half as good as L’as around here?

  15. Omoo said:

    “…many groups of Arab Jews brought their cuisine (more Arab, obviously, than anything else) with them when they immigrated to Israel…”

    I reply:

    Huh?

    But then I hit (where else) wikipedia, to find that things are, as always, never simple in the Middle East. (At least the article on falafel is — currently — well-written.)

    Key word: “Levant.” Hey, that’s French! But Omoo and this wikiauthor are d’accord: It was the big movement of Arab Jews from around the Middle East to Israel in the 50s that swung (I know, not a word) it.

    Note especially the phrase “triumph of the chickpea.”

    Enough of that. Why am *I* here? Because some online poker player from Paris used the word “As” in the chat box. Now in the poker world players have learned that they can’t call players asses, so the more generic “donkey” has become endemic, but sometimes you’ll see some version slipped in. But of course french “as” = english “ace.” Talk about a faux amis!

    Hardly reason to go netsurfing (I hate the “browse” usage) for L’A. d. F. Except…. I am a world-traveled backgammon player, and have spent months and months in Paris, where there is quite a scene of players, mostly Jewish, mostly of South- (African) or East (Israeli/Lebanon) -coast Meditteranean heredity; that is to say, Sephardic. A more colorful cast of characters you could not imagine.

    Among this melange is one Yomi Peretz. Slender but muscular, overflowing with excitable energy, volatile winning or losing, wearing fashionable leather, shaved head — is he a displaced commando? A drug lord? Ballet dancer?

    I have played him in tournaments. He’s quite animated and emotionally invested in the game. I remember onc match when he won, you’d think it was the finish line at the Tour de France. Alas, he speaks next to no English, and anyway he was talking to his friends who were watching the match.

    All is made clear when one afternoon Simon Levy and Moshe El Baz (characters in their own) take me to Marais. I am convinced that Le Metro is a time machine; suddenly we are in some other century. (They try to disguise your destination by calling the stop “St. Paul” — hah!) Et voila, L’As du Falafel, owned and run by the Peretz family if I have the facts right.

    I have nothing to add to the superlatives, except that if you are a bit jetlagged, you might have trouble finishing a falafel sandwich with pommes frites. That’s French fries to you, bub.

    Simon told me the standing offer is, if you beat Yomi at a game of backgammon, the meal is free. But they were too busy to even suggest.

    I’ve been a few times (never sneaked into the place across the way!); my “French connection” has been severed so not since 2005.

  16. (1) I don’t know why I didn’t post this the other day, but there was some reason. Anyway, Simon IM’ed me just now and this was the easiest way to show him the whole thing.

    (2) There’s a falafel place here in Santa Cruz that’s pretty good, different from L’A.d.F. of course, but great fries. Out on Mission just before Bay. The signs are slightly confusing, it’s not part of the Greek restaurant. I think I’ll head out there after my poker game is over.

    (3) Time to get over the hill and check out San Jose Falafel Drive-In. I’d have already been there, except the problem, you see, is that I always go *west* on Steven’s Creek when I get there on 17 (or 880 or whatever it’s called). In *that* direction is Slice of New York, a similarly out-of-place establishment for another essential foodgroup. (And it’s close to the Garden City cardroom.)

  17. Pingback: Paris Bites: L’As du Fallafel « Researching Paris

  18. This is the place where I had my first meal in Paris. Thanks for the memories. I’m kinda hungry all of a sudden.

  19. Pingback: For Certain Tourists « Ad Nauseam

  20. me no Anglishe me yes frenh ok ok alors j’ai et ue un peut de mal a le manger mes vraiment chapeau, donc jait tous renverser dans mon assiette et manger presque tous et le joure j je ssuis aller une kipa pour mon frere sa ma rappeller le falafeell fote d’ortograp je sait mon ordit beug et change les lettres c vachemment delicieux parfaitement delicieux…hummmmm.

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