Street food is my favourite thing to eat almost all the time. If food is salty, fried, spicy, pickled, if it’s handed to me wrapped in paper by some guy I just saw cook it, and I can dispense with forks and plates and cram it in my mouth, I’m ON IT like white on rice. Falafel – which arguably is older than the New Testament – is a perfect food. Done right, it’s a glimpse at the ineffable. It’s a pleasure loop.
I had falafel from L’As du Fallafel in the Marais for the first time when I was 12 years old. Since then, I have gone back every single time I’ve been to Paris. It is always stupendously, mind-blowingly awesome. I crave it. I’ve had long serious conversations about it. Is it true that L’As du Fallafel is the best falafel in the world? Is it fair to compare Lebanese falafel to L’As du Fallafel, which is Israeli falafel? Should I feel guilty about loving L’As du Fallafel so slavishly because they’re Zionists? (Yes, yes, and perhaps.)
L’As du Fallafel has a restaurant where you can get your falafel on a cafeteria tray (with frites if you want) and eat sitting down, but unless it’s pissing down rain the thing to do is get your falafel from the takeaway window, where at any given time at least three men are working: one whose sole task is to scoop and fry falafel in the deep fryer and two who serve it up. Even though L’As du Fallafel is always, always busy, I swear they make every falafel sandwich with love and pride. First they line the pita with lightly pickled red cabbage and some chopped cucumber and onion, then they load in fresh hot falafel straight from the deep fryer, then more cabbage and pickle and cucumber and more falafel and – god help me – the most delicious tender slow-cooked eggplant and hummus and lots of yogurty tahini dressing and – if you want it – plenty of spicy harissa.
Have a look at this:
Doesn’t it make you want to weep? That, people, is bloody gorgeous.
So, what makes L’As du Fallafel so completely amazing? Well, the falafel are hot and moist and fried crispy-brown and just small enough so that you can eat them whole, if you want to, and they are studded throughout the massive sandwich like little jewels. The pita is delicious in its own right and hefty enough to contain its contents without disintegrating (very important). The cabbage is crisp and ever-so-slightly tangy and the eggplant socks you with smoky rich umami goodness. Everything is lusciously bound together by the creamy-tart sauce and the harissa (which packs a wallop). IT IS INSANE. And it costs ONLY FIVE EUROS.
Let me make one thing clear: L’As du Falafel has no need of my little blog post. They are doing JUST FINE. Arrive too late in the day, and you’ll be directed into one of two queues (restaurant or takeaway) by spectacularly efficient yarmulked men. The queues move quickly, though, because the falafel makers are experts. Also, if you go (if?! You must!) you should be aware that L’As de Fallafel is closed on Jewish holy days (i.e., for Sabbath on Saturdays and all Jewish holidays). (The plus side of this is that L’As du Fallafel is open Sundays, when many other French eateries are closed.) Finally, sorry folks, I’ve never tried the shawarma.
L’As du Fallafel
34 Rue des Rosiers, Paris 75004
+33 1 48 87 63 60
Price per person: €5 (for a takeaway falafel sandwich)
The verdict: Must try!