Food fads come and go, but there is one food ‘trend’ that has captured the hearts (and stomachs) of many Greeks and foreigners here living in Athens; and it is here to stay: falafels. I encountered Falafellas a few years ago and you can see why I said that it is here to stay. There lots of places that serve falafels now in Athens, and we (Alison and I) have decided to choose 4 right around the Monastiraki area of downtown Athens to test. There are other establishments that are further away, which we will write about in the near future. After buying the falafel sandwiches, we went off to a small park closeby and had a picnic! You can read about Alison’s thoughts on our ‘taste wars’ here.
Falafels are little balls of fried pulses – usually chickpeas but there are variations where people use fava beans and sometimes a mixture of both. They are seasoned with spices, garlic, onions and herbs, and deep-fried. They are then stuffed into pita breads with condiments like tomatoes or lettuce, and accompanied with tahini-based sauces and/or hot sauce.
Falafellas (Aiolou 51)
Falafellas was the first place ever that I had bought and tasted falafels from a few years ago (and according to my photo feed it was around October 2013). It is very popular, and expect long queues during peak hours (which in my personal experience seems to be all the time). It doesn’t have seats, but there are benches and places to sit close by, and it’s mostly a takeaway establishment.
Other than their famous signature falafels, they also sell meatballs, and they have a wonderful tabbouleh salad. (I have a recipe for tabbouleh salad here!) I also love their ginger beer drink (Pimento) that they sell here.
Alison bought the ‘pocket’ sized falafel sandwich, and you can have it as spicy as you want. The falafel is served in a pocket-style pita bread, and it is accompanied with a salad mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers and lettuce, a tomato and paprika sauce, a yoghurt-based sauce, and my favourite, the lightly spiced cooked cubes of aubergines. This particular ingredient is what makes Falafellas so different from the other places we went to. The aubergines were cooked perfectly, and they are what I believe makes Falafellas’s falafel sandwiches in a class of its own. If you don’t like aubergines, you can opt out from it. You can also ask the sandwich to be very hot (if you have an asbestos tongue like me) or just ask for a light sprinkling of chilli/paprika. As for the falafel itself, it is very soft on the inside, and fried crispy on the outside, although it was quite thin. It wasn’t dense and heavy, and it is nicely spiced.
Falafel House (Athinas 23)
This is actually my first time here at Falafel House. I got there just before peak rush hour, and by the time I was at the front of the queue, there was a queue that was so long behind me that it shows that this place is very popular. Price-wise, it is the most competitive of the four places we went to. There are places to sit inside and outside (stools and tall bar tables). It is also has a variety of sandwiches and ‘open’ versions where they serve the pita bread by the side.
There are salads that you can buy, and also a big choice of drinks to choose from a fridge inside the shop.
I bought the Original version of the Falafel. It is served in a big pita, with hummus, shredded lettuce, pickles and a tahini sauce with a sprinkling of paprika. The hummus and tahini sauce was strong, and if you like sesame, this is the one for you. The falafel itself is rather dense, not too dry and lightly spiced. It does fill you up, and its fried crispy on the outside and yet soft on the inside. You can choose other versions of the pita – they have ones with yogurt sauce and mint (House version) and one with aubergines (Baba Ghanoush version), and Mexican and American varieties.
Not Just Falafel (Romvis 16 & Perikleous)
Not Just Falafel is my other favourite place for falafels. It also has kibbeh (made with bulgur wheat, minced meat, onions and spices) which is a favourite of my husband; and Shish Taouk (marinated grilled chicken). You can a choice of sandwiches or ‘portion’ versions of the falafel (or kibbeh/shish taouk) which is served with pita bread on the side. They have seats inside and outside, and they also sell ginger beer here. I usually recommend this establishment to people because of the availability of seats. And they have a clean restroom upstairs.
When my sister came over for Christmas recently, I took her out for lunch here and we also bought the tabbouleh and fatoush salads. We sat at the bar at the corner of the shop, and we had a wonderful time watching the guys make falafel sandwiches and preparing the ingredients in the kitchen.
Alison bought the Classic version of the falafel sandwich, and it is served with tahini sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, parsley and pickles. It is rolled up tight (even though we opened it up here so you can see it) in a pita bread. The falafels are big, made of chickepeas and very delicious. The spices in this mixture was heavenly, I immediately went ‘Yum!’ when I tasted the falafel on its own, and I could taste the cumin in it, which was not too strong, and it was just very good! There are 2 other types of sandwiches – the house version that is accompanied with hummus, and the chef version which is served with a spicy tomato paprika sauce and a minty yoghurt sauce.
Off White (Aiolou 10A)
This is the only shop out of the 4 that doesn’t really specialise only in falafels. It is a café bar, and it has beautiful decor inside. They serve a variety of food and drinks – freshly made juices, salads, sandwiches, desserts like waffles, and cocktails.
This is the priciest falafel of all the 4 places. It was quiet when I got here, and the atmosphere in the café was relaxing. The chef made the falafel right in front of me, and he shredded he mint leaves right in front of me – and I loved the smell.
This falafel sandwich was full of vegetables – tomatoes, shredded mint, cucumbers and lots and lots of iceberg lettuce. The yoghurt sauce was refreshing, but there wasn’t that spicy kick that I have expected from a falafel sandwich. It is very light. For the falafel itself, it was quite flavourful. It was green, so it certainly has herbs and/or vegetables in it, and it was lightly spiced. It was certainly tasty, and if you prefer your food to be subtle and refreshing (the mint certainly is the ‘spiciest’ thing in this sandwich) this is the falafel sandwich to try.