Sunday, June 25, 2006

Houston v. New York Part 2 - Battle Falafel

"Two dollars," says the Arab-New Yorker street vendor when I ask him how much a falafel sandwich costs. "Ok." For the next 5 minutes, I watch him fry the balls of ground chick peas and carefully construct a sandwich in a pita with lettuce, tahini-yogurt sauce, and hot pepper sauce. He hands me the sandwich. I hand him two dollars.

"Three dollars," he says, acting disgusted. "I thought you said two." "No, falafel is three dollars."

I was reminded of my experience with Arab Israeli taxi drivers in Jerusalem. They would quote me one price at the beginning of the trip and a higher price at the end. Sure, it is a small fraud, but this time I was smiled as I paid my three dollars. You see, three dollars was a steal.

The falafel stand named All Halal Foods was on the sidewalk somewhere in Midtown Manhattan. It was the third falafel stand I had seen in three blocks.

As far as I know, there are no street vendors who sell falafel in Houston. In fact, apart from a few taco trucks, Houston has no street vendors at all. Perhaps it is because we lack a pedestrian culture or because draconian health code regulations make it hard to sell food on the street. Either way, we are missing an important genre of food.

The falafel sandwich at All Halal Foods was great. The falafel balls were crisp and crunchy on the outside. As I bit into them, they fell apart. Inside, the chickpea mixture was coarsely ground and had a nutty flavor. The hot sauce on the sandwich gave it a kick that was balanced by the creamy tahini-yourt sauce. If the falafel sandwich has a Platonic form, I had found it.

Falafel is often disappointing in Houston. Typically, the chick pea mixture is ground too finely. The fried balls resembles hush puppies more than real falafel. The crust often is not crunchy, but hard. These faux falafels may be baked, or they may have been under a heat lamp for too long.

The falafel at La Fendee on Westheimer are as good as any I have had in Houston, but not that great. These falafel have an unusual spice or herb flavor that I cannot identify. The inside is green, rather than the tan color of chickpeas, so I suspect it may be an herb. The taste is good, but the texture is not quite right. The chickpea mixture is too fine from over processing and begins to feel like a rock in my stomach after several bites. The outside is crispy, but too hard, which is probably the result of grinding the meal too finely. These falafel sandwiches cost $4.25, plus tax and tip.

I recommend other items at La Fendee -- interestingly-spiced schwarma, baba ganooj, hummus. Plus, La Fendee is BYOB.

But if you really want good falafel, I have not found a restaurant in Houston to recommend. Instead, I suggest you get on a plane, fly to New York, and eat your falafel on the street.


Bradley said...

Glad you're back. Missed your posts!

Anonymous said...

The green color is probably a result of using fava beans instead of chickpeas. Bean preference is different between different countries.