I initially discovered falafel at the tender age of 22, whilst roaming around the Middle East. Wandering through Egypt, Jordan and then Israel, I was a backpacker on a budget, and eating them at least once a day because they were so cheap. Now, years later, living in Tel Aviv, and with a bit more money in the bank but that still doesn’t stop me tucking into one, usually at least once a week, because they're just so damned tasty and, as many Israelis will tell you, it’s our national snack.
So what is falafel, for those of you who’ve never tried this delight? Well, its tiny balls of ground-up seasoned chickpeas, which are then deep-fried in oil until they’re dark brown. Everyone who makes falafel has a different seasoning recipe (paprika, cumin, coriander, parsley, to name but a few spices) but most Israelis (including myself) will tell you that the ideal taste is achieved when the falafel ball is crisp on the outside but moist and tender as you bite into it.
Falafel in Israel isn’t just these little balls though - it’s also a dish in its own right, and usually served in a pitta bread, stuffed with all sorts of delicious salads and sauces. These might include picked vegetables, as well as fried aubergine slices, tomatoes and onions and tahini - a creamy sesame seed paste. Occasionally, you might even have some chips (fries) thrown in or be asked if you want some humus spread on the pita (though neither of these is the norm).
Tel Aviv’s full of falafel places, and everyone I know swears by a cartain joint. For me, though, it has to be ‘HaKosem’ which, in Hebrew, means ‘The Magician.’ Located in the heart of the city, on the corner of busy King George Street, you’ll see the lunchtimes line from a distance…and the tiny plastic containers full of falafel balls being passed back to waiting customers, so they can have a taste of what’s to come whilst they pass a few minutes.
Ha Kosem is everything I love about Tel Aviv street food - clean, good value for money, buzzy and authentic. The pita is baked in a special oven and the falafel balls’ special seasoning ingredient? Well that I can’t tell you. But the balls are fantastically crisp on the outside yet melt in your mouth, the moment you pop them in. The salad bar is as fresh as any I’ve seen in the Middle East (you choose exactly what you want in it - and how hot your sauces are) and, to top it off, you can have a slice or two of fried eggplant tucked into the side. The whole thing is rounded off with drizzles of tahini.
Ha Kosem sell full pitas for 19 NIS (about $5) and, trust me, once you’ve eaten one, you’re going to be full for many hours to come. They also sell lemonade and beer, and the place is kosher (so ideal for anyone keeping dietary laws) and vegetarian.
I still remember the first falafel I ever ate at Ha Kosem - almost 10 years to the day. The flavour exploded in my mouth and that night, in bed, I was already craving my next one. Falafel is Israel’s national street food and favourite snack - so pop down to this joint and stand in line for a little taste of heaven.
Ha Kosem (‘The Magician’)
Address: Shlomo HaMelekh 1 (corner of King George), Tel Aviv
Opening Times: Sun - Thurs. 09.30 - 23.00; Fri 09.30 - 16.30