Copenhagen - A Scandinavian Surprise

Who would have thought that there would be Middle Eastern fast food joints in the middle of a Scandinavian city in northern Europe? My first international stop of the summer in Copenhagen, Denmark proved me wrong, as well as all those who have doubted me. When we arrived at our hostel across the street from Central Station in a prime location in the city, the first thing I Googled as soon as I had wifi was "falafel places near me." A long list appeared and I knew I was in the right place. 

The most touristy street in the city, Strøget, boasts every designer store that you can imagine, from Gucci to Michael Kors, as well as your trashy tourist souvenir shops and people flagging you down to buy fake Prada and handouts for night clubs. Despite the crowds, Strøget does do one thing correctly, shawarma fast food joints with falafel sandwiches on the menu. Though I walked by all of these places with big eyes and a growling stomach, I ended up eating falafel in a completely different part of the city.

Island Brygge is a neighborhood just across the canal over a bridge from downtown Copenhagen and we made the walk over to explore another part of the city. It was very quiet and we were definitely the only tourists present, hence the only Danish menus posted outside of every restaurant and cafe. We didn't find anything that caught our eye until we stumbled upon another shawarma joint called Hungry DK, and of course, falafel was on the menu! I was beyond excited to finally have my Copenhagen falafel fix and to see if it could compare to any other falafel I've had. I then asked the man behind the counter with a heavy accent where he was from. When he responded with Lebanon, I excitedly said that I was Armenian and he smiled back, not saying much else. A Middle Eastern influenced meal was all I needed. 

The verdict: I ordered the veggie plate, which came with 3 pieces of falafel, hummus, pita, tabbouleh, grape leaves, salad, and tzatziki sauce. I ordered it to go because I wanted to sit outside by the canal to eat it, which turned out to be a mistake because the tzatziki sauce pretty much mixed in with everything. Overall, a pretty decent meal. The falafel wasn't the best, not crispy on the outside and a bit dry on the inside. The hummus and pita made up for it, as well as the grape leaves which I was happy to have. The value was expensive for such a mediocre meal, but keep in mind that Copenhagen is pricey to begin with. I'd have to judge that Scandinavia didn't win my heart in terms of falafel, not surprisingly, but I'm stoked for what else is in store! Next stop: a two week loop around Morocco. 

NYC - Olympic Pita with the Gold

Scheduling the first leg of my trip with a flight out of JFK was the best idea because 1) it was MUCH cheaper, and 2) I had a decently long layover and hopped on the subway from the airport and got into Penn Station in the afternoon with an empty stomach and in serious need of a meal. Michelle and I roamed around Midtown with different ideas of food in mind. She wanted a classically loaded New York bagel, and I think you can guess what I had in mind. It took a bit of convincing, but once we stumbled upon Olympic Pita on 38th between 5th and 6th, we both knew that the first of many falafel meals of the summer would begin here.

The restaurant was pretty empty, granted that it was only 4:30 in the afternoon on a Wednesday. We soon discovered that it was an Israeli influenced restaurant, and instead of playing traditional ethnic music, the top 40 countdown graced our ears and created a fun atmosphere only enjoyed by the two of us.

On to more important material...the menu encompassed all kinds of authentic Israeli/Middle Eastern chicken, beef, and steaks, but we skipped right to the falafel hummus plate on the menu. The waitress said that this would include 5 falafels over a plate of hummus, with pita bread on the side. I was really digging this, and Michelle suggested that we get a couple sides as well...the more the merrier! We chose a beet salad, tabbouleh, and roasted eggplant.

The results: this was hands down some of the best falafel that I've ever put in my mouth...seriously ever. It was perfectly crispy on the outside, and soft and fresh on the inside. The perfect amount of garlic and parsley...we were seriously in love. Olympic Pita, you came in SO clutch and have set the bar so high and we don't even leave the country for another hour. The rest meal was fantastic as well - pita was warm, eggplant on point, can't go wrong in that department. The value was very good being located in Manhattan and for sure somewhere I'd return to and recommend to all other falafel connoisseurs out there. Day 1: check. The rest of the trip: TBD.

Tasty Beginnings

It’s funny that I'm writing my first Falafel Files post from a coffee shop across the street from my favorite falafel joint in Iowa City, IA where I go to school. I graduate and move away in 7 days and I still have 5 more punches on my current falafel pita punch card before I get a free one. This seems viable, right?

Many of you may be wondering what exactly falafel might be, where it originated, and how it’s prepared. I will gladly provide a short history lesson, but then it’s straight to the point – my falafel endeavors. Falafel is generally considered a Middle Eastern, and sometimes Mediterranean cuisine. The origin is unknown and slightly controversial, but is thought to have begun in Egypt, and slowly spread to the Middle East as an alternative to eating meat during Lent. The cultures that comprise the Middle East and Mediterranean all have their own variations of falafel, but it is most commonly prepared by deep frying chick peas or fava beans. I’ve even had it with rice and lentils, but nothing compares to that of chick peas (hummus, am I right)? Spices such as parsley, cumin, coriander, green onion, and of course tons of garlic are added to the mix to produce small, deep-fried round balls of goodness. It is most commonly served with pita bread and hummus on the side, or inside the pita pocket to make a sandwich. Baba ganoush, cabbage salad, tomatoes, and cucumbers and tahini dressing are a great combination as well, because the more the merrier.

Sitting at 206 N. Linn Street, Oasis Falafel is definitely the most renowned Middle Eastern restaurant in the Iowa City area and an absolute most-visit if you’re in town and craving some good grub, or just some chips and hummus. This place is seriously such a hidden gem because of its location, but I guarantee that you will not be disappointed. Even my dad who’s from Syria and grew up on this stuff thinks that this is some top-notch falafel.

Being from Chicago and coming from a foodie and opinionated Armenian and Italian family, I’ve had my fair share of falafel on a weekly (ahem, tri-weekly) basis. Before I go any further, I’ll briefly describe how this mild obsession came about. Last summer when I wasn’t at my part time internship at the Tribune, I worked in my mom’s office making phone calls every Friday from 8-5pm, followed by a much-needed happy hour at the end of the day on the Chicago River. I loved it because she’d take me out to lunch every week, and somehow we stumbled upon a weekly tradition which we cleverly named “Falafel Fridays.” Our goal, every single Friday, was to try a new Middle Eastern or Mediterranean restaurant with falafel on the menu and evaluate its quality by the end of the meal. I lost count after about week 5, but we had to have tried over a dozen places just within walking distance of her office, and loved them all (duh…how can you go wrong)?! Needless to say, if you’re ever in the Chicagoland area, I’d be happy to give you the best recommendations.

Beginning in 11 days, I set off for about 3 months of post-grad travels abroad and just seeing where my feet (and bank account) lead me. My goal is to find a falafel restaurant/joint/food truck/shack/ANYTHING in every city or town I step foot in, which I know will be a challenge, but who wouldn’t be up for a challenge of eating amazing food? For my remaining blog posts, I will provide a full evaluation about the quality of the falafel, what it’s served with, the employees’ service in the establishment, the atmosphere, and anything else that catches me as interesting (visuals included), as I search for the world’s best falafel. I want to end the dispute of who and where makes the best falafel on the planet Earth once and for all. And then who knows? Maybe the Travel Channel will pick up on this and give me a TV show! Until then, here’s a great picture I snapped a few months ago at Oasis just to leave you salivating. See y’all on the other side of the pond! 

xoxo -Falafel Files