• Contrary to wide belief, falafel isn't just the one-handed fast food it's often painted as. (Falafel from Middle Eastern Week on The Chefs' Line Season 2)Source: Falafel from Middle Eastern Week on The Chefs' Line Season 2
Some of the country's top chefs (and even technology giant Apple) are rallying behind this Middle Eastern gem.
Mariam Digges

16 Aug 2019 - 8:43 AM  UPDATED 16 Aug 2019 - 8:43 AM

Something is happening to the falafel. Our favourite vegetarian mezze is finally getting the respect it deserves, exalted from the food courts and take-away joints it has long been relegated to.

Even Apple, the ultimate trend forecasters, are getting behind the falafel’s rising star by announcing it will release a falafel emoji shortly – that's right, soon you won't even need to use text to arrange all your falafel-y hookups.

Waffle and falafel emojis are coming to a screen near you
Four more reasons to drool over everyone’s favourite pictorial language.

Sure, some longstanding takeaway shops have always done them justice, but many resort to blasting the pre-cooked patties in the microwave before serving them, a travesty in any true falafel fan's books, especially when one considers how long it takes to make these palm-sized delicacies (Yotam Ottolenghi says you need to 24 hours to really do them justice).

It's falafel that has elevated restaurants like Jasmin 1 in Lakemba and Leichardt, and Fatima's in Surry Hills to institution status. Michael Rantissi of Kepos & Co and Kepos Street Kitchen has even named a book after them titled Falafel for Breakfast.

Falafel for Breakfast

And now, mid- to fine-dining restaurants are rallying behind the humble spiced patty by reimagining it in delicious new ways.

Sydney's Nomad once trialled a spanner-crab falafel, wedged it into a hot steamed bun, and now Surry Hills' Nour has reinvented the chickpea wheel. The recently rebooted mod-Lebanese diner is plating up a brunch-time crumpet, and it's a game-changer.

At first glance, these could pass for the brekky snacks of your childhood but one bite reveals they're anything but; Nour's crumpets have been infused with ground chickpeas and warm falafel spices, giving them the flavour profile of your favourite chickpea balls. The discs are fried in butter until golden, then topped with tahini, tendrils of pickled onion and a soft-yolk egg for a brunch that’s worthy of your Middle Eastern grandma's attention. Mine certainly would've approved.

"Falafel is more than just a late-night snack, sitting in a bain-marie somewhere, quite dry. It's a beautiful thing to eat and enjoy."

It's not the first falafel crumpet in the country ­­– Nour's chef Ben Williamson brought the flavour-loaded snacks down from his previous post at Brisbane's Gerard's Bistro where they once ferried taramasalata and trout roe. And we thought mash-ups were just for chasing cheap Instagram thrills.

Nearby at Darlinghurst's Syrian-skewed Almond Bar, chef and co-owner Sharon Salloum says falafel will always form a part of the restaurant’s DNA.

"Falafel has been on the menu since day one and there's no way it will ever leave the menu," Salloum tells SBS Food. "It's a quintessential Middle Eastern dish, a food that the people are very familiar with. For us, it's really important that people know it's more than just a late-night snack."

"Falafel has been on the menu since day one and there's no way it will ever leave the menu." 

Contrary to wide belief, falafel (pronounced fa-le-fel in some parts of the world, like in Syria and Jordan – that's right, the 'a' is an anomaly) isn't just the one-handed fast food it's often painted as. Rather, it's a special, even celebratory, dish that can be enjoyed anytime, especially on festive occasions.

Falafel waffles

Yes, this recipe title may have made you do a double-take; but yes, it actually really works. Nutty, earthy chickpeas and grapes that pop with sweetness. Consider it a Middle Eastern-style take on waffles.

"For us, it's traditional to eat [falafel] on Good Friday. We make falafel every Good Friday with the family and often during that Lent period. For us, it's really important to do it the right way and enjoy it," Salloum says.

Almond Bar's falafel is made with 10-millimetre chickpeas from WA's fertile Ord River. The larger diameter gives the chickpeas a higher natural starch content, meaning no glutenous binders are needed. Salloum picks herbs from her parent's garden, garlic from their veggie patch, and teams the crunchy orbs with a house-made tarator sauce and pickles.

"As a child, my mum had a serving platter with its own falafel section, and I remember she would pull it out of the fridge with the patties she had shaped earlier that day, and fry them up fresh for us. 

"Falafel is more than just a late-night snack, sitting in a bain-marie somewhere, quite dry. It's a beautiful thing to eat and enjoy."

Over at Bekya (they now have three outlets at Tramsheds, World Square and Circular Quay's Gateway) falafel is made the Egyptian way – that is, with split fava beans rather than chickpeas. The result, according to the team, is a light and fluffier centre. If you like your herbs, you'll love Bekya's falafel, which it packs with dill, coriander, parsley and mint, giving the balls a bright green centre and earthier flavour. They come fried to order, plated or wrapped, with house pickles and tahini sauce.

Falafel has been a hot drawcard at Emma's Snack Bar in Enmore since it first opened their doors as Emma's on Liberty (its white tablecloth predecessor) in 2004. The family-run favourite serves their Lebanese-style fried chickpea spheres under a cascade of tahini sauce. A half bottle of Arak is recommended to sweeten the deal.

Perhaps the rise in plant-based cooking has spurred on the falafel's moment in the sun, or maybe it's the onslaught of new Middle Eastern restaurants in the city, with the likes of Babylon, Nour and Tayim popping up.

Let's see what the rest of 2019 has in store for this crunchy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside, herby gem.

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