Long a popular fast food in the Middle East, falafel now has its own dedicated eatery in Norwich. SIMON PARKIN tucks in and wonders why its taken so long.
The humble, healthful chickpea looks nothing special but it's the magic ingredient that two of the world-conquering delicacies from the Middle East — hummus and falafel — are made from.
Falafel as long been a ubiquitous street food of cities from Beirut to Cairo, Istanbul to Tel Aviv.
Fried balls of ground chickpea, usually stuffed into a pitta bread with salad and various spicy or cooling sauces — depending on your taste — it is cheap, filling and healthy.
Having visited both Israel and Egypt I've seen first hand that it really is the default fast food option over there — the burger of the Middle East.
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It seems strange then that it has taken so long to arrive in Norwich in the same form. Yes it's no stranger to menus of, in particular, vegetarian restaurants but not in the same grab-it-and-go style.
Thanks goodness then for Moorish Falafel Bar which has been open on Lower Goat Lane since just before Christmas.
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Run by Ayyub King and wife Samia King, in partnership with Sam Finnie from Finnies Juice Bar just next door, they took his inspiration from seeing similar bars in London and Amsterdam.
'This kind of bar seems to do well in London, Amsterdam and Berlin, so we thought we would open the first of its kind in Norwich,' said Ayyub, who first tried out the idea at the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in Chapelfield Gardens last year. 'It might not have worked 10 years ago but we found we had queues all day long. A lot of people have never tried it before, but once they do, they come back.'
The place is already establishing itself as a popular lunchtime hang-out — so much so that they've already branched out, taking over the coffee stall outside Norwich Playhouse ion St George Street.
It is not large, basically just the serving counter and a few stools downstairs, there is however more seating area upstairs but you may struggle to find a table at busy times.
It's cosy, funky with a vaguely Middle Eastern theme to the d�cor and very friendly. They're happy to talk you through the menu if you've never been before.
There are three main options that come in pitta bread: Moorish falafel, served with hummus and salad; Mediterranean, with aubergine and salad; and Greek falafel, which comes with feta, hummus and za'tar. You get a choice of optional sauces — chilli, yoghurt and tahini — and the option of white or wholemeal pitta.
They also do falafel burgers and salad boxes as well as a variety of extras including gherkins and hot green peppers.
We opted for the meal deal of a Moorish falafel with homemade lemonade for �4.90. Mashed, spiced with onions and herbs and fried in olive oil, the falafel tucked into a pitta pocket with tahini and yogurt sauce and served in little wooden bowls, was tasty and, most importantly, not too greasy. The salad was fragrant and a good mix and worked well. The still lemonade, topped with fresh cut mint, perfect to wash it down.
From memory of those days eating similar in dusty, hot streets in the Middle East I'd say they've pretty much nailed to taste. A great addition to Norwich's food scene and let's hope they treat the burger eating hordes to try something different.
Lower Goat Lane
Open: Daily until 6pm
Prices: Falafels �4.25-�3.60, falafel burger �3.80, salad boxes �3.60
Vegetarian options: It's all vegetarian
Wheelchair access: Yes, but not to upstairs seating
t The origin of falafel is controversial. A common theory is that the dish originated in Egypt, possibly eaten by Copts as a replacement for meat during lent. Another theory is that ancient Jews invented it during their slavery in Egypt.
t Falafel initially become popular among vegetarians, but has now been adopted as a popular street food and healthy source of protein. It has become so popular that McDonald's has begun to serve a 'McFalafel' in some countries.
t In 2010 more than 300 Lebanese chefs set a world record by preparing 5,173kg of falafel mixture. Meanwhile an Israeli chef in New York set a world record for the largest falafel ball, weighing in at 10.9kg and with a circumference of more than a metre.