• The sabich at Very Good Falafel. (Madz Rehorek)Source: Madz Rehorek
A pita filled with fried eggplant, hard-boiled egg, potato, salad and pickle, and slathered in hummus, tahini, amba and zhug. What's not to love?
Audrey Bourget

3 Sep 2020 - 9:31 PM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2020 - 3:03 PM

Shuki Rosenboim of Melbourne's Very Good Falafel tells SBS Food, "When I lived in Tel Aviv [in Israel], I probably ate sabich at least once or twice a day. I was really addicted to it!

"The combination of amba with fried eggplant and tahini, nothing can compete, it's such a good combination."

As cliché as the expression "packed with flavour" can be, it seems it was invented for this stuffed pita (or sometimes laffa flatbread). Inside, you'll find slices of fried eggplant, brown hard-boiled egg, fresh salad, pickles, and hummus. Other essentials are tahini and amba, an Iraqi pickled mango chutney that has Indian roots. Chunks of boiled or fried potatoes are a common ingredient, and zhug - Yemeni hot sauce - is optional, but recommended for a nice kick.

Zhug is the Yemeni hot sauce that gives a kick to your cook
There are many different recipes for zhug, but they all have two things in common: a good kick and well-balanced flavours.

It's Iraqi Jews who brought sabich, also spelt sabih, to Israel in the 1940-50s. Since it was originally eaten on the morning of Shabbat, where no cooking is allowed, the eggplant and potato were prepared on Friday, and the eggs slow-cooked during the night. When families would come back from the Synagogue on Saturday morning, they'd put all the elements of sabich on the kitchen table and build their own plate or sandwich.

Although, it would sometimes be too hard to wait until then. "When we'd come back from school on Friday, mum would have already started preparing everything.

"There would be fried eggplant on the table ready for the Saturday. We wouldn't wait and start eating sabich on Friday and again on Saturday," recalls Rosenboim.

Shuki Rosenboim making a sabich spread at home.

"Then, when we were a bit older, my mum would host our friends for a big sabich spread. There would be 10 friends coming over and we'd see who can eat the most and who can make the best pita because everything was on the table and we'd made them ourselves."

In the 1960s, thanks to Iraqi immigrant Sabich Zvi Halabi, sabich started its ascension as one of the most popular street foods of Israel. He opened the first sabich stall just outside Tel Aviv, in Ramat Gan. The stall has since moved a few doors down, but is still run by his family. The origins of the name sabich are disputed; some say it was named after Halabi, while others claim the term comes from the Arabic word for morning or the Hebrew words for salad, egg and eggplant.

Homemade sabich.

The main ingredients of sabich tend to stay the same, but there can be a variation in the salad component. Rosenboim even recalls a place in Tel Aviv using feta instead of hummus, but despite his sabich addiction, he has never been tempted to try it.

At Brunswick's Very Good Falafel, which Rosenboim co-owns with Louisa Allan, the sabich is fairly traditional, except for the absence of egg to make the sandwich vegan. "Even Israelis come to the shop, eat it and say they didn't notice, that it doesn't matter," says Rosenboim.

"They don't go back to falafel after trying the sabich." 

According to him, the quality of a sabich relies on the ingredients, but also on how these ingredients are put together in the pita. "When you make a sabich, you have to structure it to make sure you're going to get a bit everything in every bite,” he explains, adding that's what he spends the most time teaching new staff.

Melbourne’s Very Good Falafel does just that
Two friends behind Very Good Falafel are making some of the best chickpea nuggets in town: crispy on the outside and full of texture on the inside.

While the Very Good Falafel is mainly known to make one of, if not the, best falafel in Melbourne, the sabich has been gaining more and more fans.

"When we started, no one really ordered the sabich because they had no idea what it was," says Rosenboim.

"But people started to try it and everyone who tried it is hooked. Often, they don't go back to falafel after trying the sabich." 

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Where to eat sabich
Melbourne: Very Good Falafel, New Jaffa, The Left Handed Chef and Tahina.
Sydney: Shenkin, Chapter E and Shawarmama

Shuki Rosenboim

Sabich is a Jewish-Iraqi brunch eaten late morning on Shabbat. It is designed as a big free-for-all spread on the table. You can compile the sandwich how you like with the following condiments and ingredients.

Serves 4 

  • Zhoug
  • Amba (smoked mango sauce), can be bought from most middle eastern shops - or get mango chutney from an Indian grocery store
  • Hummus
  • Tahini
  • Pickled cucumber
  • 2 eggplants
  • 2 boiled potatoes
  • 4 boiled eggs

Israeli Salad

  • 3 tomato
  • 2 cucumber
  • Half an onion diced, dressed in lemon
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Onion salad

  • 1 onion
  • Sumac
  • Parsley

Laffa (Iraqi pita bread)

  • 500g flour
  • 1 tsp dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 300ml water

1. Combine all laffa ingredients except the water, in a bowl. Add water and knead for two minutes. Place in an oiled bowl with a tea towel on top, leave to rise for 2 hours.
2. Once risen, roll dough into 4-6 small balls, and then flatten with rolling pin.

3. Cook on non-stick frying pan over medium heat.

4. Place on a plate with a tea towel on top, to make sure it doesn't get too dry.

5. Slice eggplants into centimetre thick slices, sprinkle with salt, leave for 10 minutes.

6. Using a paper towel, press on the eggplants to remove moisture and salt.

7. Shallow fry with oil in saucepan until golden brown.

7. Slice and season the boiled eggs and potatoes with salt and pepper.
8. Place everything on table, and compile roughly in this order: tahini, hummus, zhoug, eggplant, potato, egg, amba, salad, onion, pickle.

9. Roll it all up. Yum. 


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