Talking about falafels to those who aren’t into Middle Eastern cuisine is like talking about your love life to a colleague at work. No matter how good you are in describing it, it’s not bound to elicit a reaction other than a shrug, if not a walkout.
Long a favorite of vegetarians and vegans, falafels consist of little more than ground chickpeas that are deep-fried and often stuffed in pita. It’s classic street food — simple and satisfying, with no special regard to visual presentation.
So perhaps it’s just apt that a 24/7 restaurant that dedicates itself to these chickpea fritters doesn’t look like much. Its location at a quiet corner of the increasingly popular Burgos area in Makati feels unlikely for an establishment that carries such a repuation as Esquire Philippines’ Best New Restaurant for 2014. The sign above its doors doesn’t do anything to add to its plain exteriors, considering that it’s right across a mall and within the vicinity of glitzier restaurants.
Inside are just a handful of stainless tables surrounded by walls whose adornments are mostly clippings from publications praising its falafels. And the menu is a crude laminated printout.
Despite the unrefined impression and that it’s a few hours after midnight on a weekday, customers continue to stream inside. And the diners aren’t what I expect of a hole-in-the-wall either. Some are impeccably dressed foreigners who look like they have been from a long night of a cocktail party, while others seem to be from a posh village nearby.
Beni, buried in a laptop at a corner of his restaurant while his wife flits across the dining area, tells us that he sources some of his ingredients from Israel to maintain authenticity. Seldom breaking into a smile, the somber-looking owner has an aura that suggests he’s all business. And probably because he is.
Until about a year ago, kebabs and shawarmas filled the minds of most as far as Middle Eastern dishes are concerned. In this side of the world falafels didn’t get much attention. Now Metro Manila is experiencing some sort of a consciousness for the dish as a result of Beni’s restaurant and he hopes we won’t slip back to naivety of it.
A few minutes after we order, the Beni’s Falafel arrives, with an appearance that’s something between a shawarma and a burger. Biting into it, the layers begin to reveal themselves.The sandwich contains crispy falafels with fresh shredded lettuce and sliced tomatoes. These are all piled into a fluffy pita in such quantities that the contents threaten to spill anytime. I put on some chili sauce, which turns out to be really fiery, so eating the sandwich becomes an exercise in hygiene management.
You can make for a neater eating experience by choosing to go for a deconstructed version, in which five falafels are served with pita on the side. And there’s something about these fritters that begs to be eaten with hummus, a traditional Levantine dip made from mashed chickpeas and blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic.
Beni’s Falafel also has a few chicken dishes but this is our chance to exercise our Lenten crusade and actually enjoy it, so we stick to being meat-free. Besides, the falafels have been so good to keep us vegan, at least for the meantime.
4364 Valdez St., Pobalcion,
(0906) 349 1300