Friday, June 5, 2009


It would be only a slight overstatement to say that we chose our Charming Vacation Apartment because of its proximity to L'As du Falafel. If, after all, you can choose between an Authentic Parisian Small Building two metro stops away from falafel, or an equally Authentic place a mere two minutes' walk away, I think the choice is clear. I have been making the Falafel Pilgrimage for almost two decades. C has gone with me many times; we've taken the girls (they, at age 9, chose a hot dog instead; as a good mother, I've forgiven them their youthful waywardness). L and I have gone regularly over the past few years. The visit that stands out--the visit, I think, that marked me as a Falafel Lifer, was one that we undertook with the girls' Aunt A. That time, we elected to take our falafel around the corner to a park. It's not a big park, or a particularly notable park--sand and gravel, a play structure, a very small boules pitch--but it provides the closest park benches to the falafel window.

We installed ourselves on a bench, falafel-filled pitas in hand. It was A's first pilgrimage to the rue des Rosiers, and I had been talking of not a whole lot else the entire day. We'd had a late breakfast and, what with one small child and another, not gotten out the door til past noon. Although it was only an hour or so since our morning tartines, I suggested that we go directly to Falafel Land. Lunch, after all, is lunch.

A and L demurred. No one was hungry--when pressed, I had to admit that I wasn't either, actually--and they both wanted to visit the Centre Pompidou. You know, the largest collection of modern and contemporary art in France. Magnanimously, I agreed, secure in the knowledge that if, once inside the museum, either showed a reluctance to proceed, after a reasonable art-viewing period, to the rue des Rosiers, I could always strike out on my own and make it back before they'd finished discussing Number 26 A.

Eventually--post cards bought, Pollocks perused--we headed over to L'As du Falafel. It had been several months since I'd had my falafel fix--several months of herbes de provence, lamb, fresh pasta, cheeses, and salads--and I was ready. Perhaps you've never had really good falafel, and don't know what I'm talking about? I'll defer to a proper food writer, the Times' Mark Bittman, to explain:

The sandwich contains the requisite super-crisp, garlicky chickpea fritters, with creamy hummus, lightly pickled red cabbage (something between slaw and kraut), salted cucumbers, fried eggplant and just-hot-enough harissa. This is all piled into a pita in such quantities that eating it is an adventure in napkin management.

Each sandwich has four or five fritters in it, layered with the other ingredients so that each mouthful brings a mix of tastes and textures. We sat down on our bench, extended our sandwiches away from our laps, leaned forward, and bit.

One of my falafel fritters escaped the pita. It rolled out of my lap, along the bench, and dropped onto the ground.

Don't eat that! L used the tone that she usually reserves for when a small child has just picked up a piece of raw chicken from the floor of a public restroom, has opened his mouth and is looking at the chicken with avid curiosity and hunger. It may be that I had reached to pick up the fritter from where it had rolled to a stop, just between a cigarette butt and an empty Ricola box.

I looked up. The aunts looked back at me and started to laugh. I couldn't quite see what was funny: here I was, down one fritter out of five, experiencing my own personal crise du falafel, my falafel investment down 20% before I'd even taken a bite. L wiped away a tear while A tried to hold her sandwich upright while she doubled over laughing.

It's just that you looked so griefstricken, said A.

Well. Since then, I eat inside at L'As du Falafel, sitting at a table, and with a knife and fork. What it lacks in excitement, in the edginess of dining al fresco, it makes up for in the virtual certainty that all of the fritters, and even the last bits of eggplant, will reach their destination.