Johnny’s Falafel: A Dispatch from Tel Aviv

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Whenever I visit somewhere new, I like to seek out the “institutions”. Those historic food and drink venues that are as a much a part of the fabric of a city as a Cathedral or a Museum. Often, they even have their own cultural identity.

Whether it’s a historic fin-de-siècle café or a famous 24-hour restaurant, most cities have them. London has the Beigel Bake on Brick Lane or Bar Italia in Soho, Amsterdam has Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx, a hole-in-the-wall French fry shop & Seville has Confitería La Campana, a historic cake shop.

I’m a huge fan of falafel. It’s one of my favourite street foods. I’d sampled the best London and Paris has to offer, so on a recent trip to Tel Aviv, the culinary capital of Israel, I wanted to find the best spot to enjoy this Middle Eastern classic. It just so happened that the best falafel in town came from a Tel Aviv institution.

Johnny Banin Falafel on Tchernikhovski Street is a historic no-frills falafel shop that has been serving up deep-fried chickpea goodness since 1955. There are faded pictures of the original owners on the wall and it attracts everybody, from locals young & old to tourists.

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Everyone comes to Johnny for their falafel.

The falafels are served in flat-bread pitas with just the right amount of salad and Johnny’s signature fried potato wedged in the top. There are several sauces available according to your preferences. There’s Chilli, which is hot, Tahini, a ground sesame paste which is a staple in Middle Eastern cooking and Amba, which is a tangy mango pickle.  All food is gluten free and at 17 shekels each (around £3.84), they’re a cheap, tasty, filling meal. It’s vegan too.

There are disputes about the provenance of falafel: with some claiming it’s Egyptian, some Israeli and some Lebanese but it’s classic Israeli street food and this is its zenith. Until I came here, my preference was always Pilpel in London; Johnny has now ruined that for me. Whenever I eat from there now I can only think, “Johnny does it better”.

Thanks for reading,

Terry.

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