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.
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:
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:
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).
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!