The Best of Beirut
on Jan 8, 2015 By Danielle Issa
In the Middle East, falafel is sometimes stigmatized as the food of paupers. Drawing almost exclusively on fava beans and chickpeas, it’s no wonder this veggie delight is so affordable. But recently, falafel has come into the limelight for its nutritious and wholesome profile: high in soluble fiber, protein and complex carbohydrates, it can be a satisfying meal, particularly when it is baked not fried.
Lebanon has a falafel joint in almost every neighborhood, but a few strongholds have become icons of international prominence. With the heavy feasting of the holidays behind us, let’s check out these light Levantine foodstuffs.
Falafel Freiha is a family-run establishment with only three outlets: one in Sassine; another in Broumana; and a third in faraway Montreal. Each of the Freiha brothers owns and operates a joint, refusing to franchise and for good measure: quality and consistency are of paramount importance. Freiha serves freshly fried, blonde falafel balls to be nibbled as is or wrapped up in sandwich form (3,000 LL) with all the requisite fixings. Crunch into perfectly pickled pink horseradish, juicy red tomato slices, flat-leaf parsley and the essential tarator sauce.
Madrassat Salam Street
It all started in 1933, when Mustapha Sahyoun, Sr., launched the Falafel Sahyoun family business and forever changed the face of Lebanese falafel. Freshly-baked bread delivered daily to the kitchen, the perfect blend of tahini and lemon juice to form tarator, and small spheres of falafel with a crispy exterior and a soft, molten core. Today there are two shops wall-to-wall run by the two feuding sons of Mustapha, but both merit a pilgrimage from near and far for Lebanon's history-laced falafel.
Falafel Sahyoun Website
Another storied falafel shop in Lebanon dates back to 1949, when Arsen Heybelian opened a nameless spot measuring 15 square meters in the city of Bourj Hammoud. When the street along which the snack joint stood was dubbed “Arax,” Heybelian followed suit and adopted the same name. Today Falafel Arax has become a mainstay in Lebanese fast food dining, serving delicious light-brown hued falafel balls alongside an extensive menu of specialty Armenian sandwiches, sausages, basterma, submarines, shawarma, and more. Arax features outlets across Lebanon, Jordan, Canada, and the USA.
Falafel Abu el Ziz uses a unique recipe to craft its falafel. In fact, you’ll immediately notice how blonde these balls are, fried to a golden crisp and extremely light on the stomach. My guess is the kitchen opts for a ratio heavily favoring chickpeas to fava beans, and hence the color, nutty taste, and little bloating induced afterward. Check out their newest branch just a few meters away from the Sahyoun strongholds in Sodeco.
Green Falafel is the restaurant concept of Christine Assouad Sfeir, the power woman beyond Dunkin Donuts Lebanon and the ever-expanding Semsom. Serving up its signature grilled falafel whole-wheat wrap (4,500 LL) weighing in at less than 300 kcal, Green Falafel also proposes innovative new recipes like falafel fajitas and the falafel burger. Certainly a vegan foodie’s paradise, check out their classic Lebanese breakfast dishes, including hummos, fatteh, foul, and balila, served all day long.
Jal el Dib Highway
Jal el Dib
Green Falafel Website
Danielle Issa is a food blogger in Lebanon. You can find her on Twitter, and be sure to check out her blog, Beirutista.
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