IN A country where your fast food options vary between souvlaki, flaky pies slathered in hydrogenated fats and sandwiches you only really crave if it’s 7am and you’ve been up partying all night, it’s nice to finally have another option that is a tad healthier and, by international standards, very tasty – crunchy falafels, tucked into Arabic pitta bread along with other condiments.
As is often the case with popular places such as Falafellas in central Athens, where people are willing to queue for a good 15 minutes to grab their bit of local street food, one wonders why it took so long for someone to come up with the idea of making the beloved Middle Eastern food the newest food trend. There have of course been a handful of places serving falafels in the capital, but none of them ever took off as Falafellas did.
Perhaps it’s the smart location, just round the corner from the throbbing Aghias Eirinis Square and a stone’s throw away from Monastiraki Square as well as Ermou st, the central shopping high street of Athens. Or it could be the sleek, contemporary, trendy and at the same time chilled hipster vibe of this tiny joint, created by friends (aka Falafellas) Aris and Giorgos. And it’s definitely also the crisis-friendly prices, with a giant Arabic pitta stuffed with the honorary falafels, fried to a golden crisp, and accompanied by cucumber slices, grilled marinated aubergine, tomato, lettuce, yogurt and plenty of hot sauce for spice lovers, costing only 3,50€, while a smaller version costs one euro less. Beer and other refreshments cost 1 euro while their ginger and chilli fizz drink costs 2,50€.
I’ve eaten falafel at Falafellas twice and always accompanied by friends, because I definitely wouldn’t bother queueing there on my own -frankly, although the food here is satisfying enough to hit the spot on a busy afternoon in town, there is nothing about it that would make me long to go back for more. The falafel themselves are unfortunately not very rich in flavour (I didn’t get the traditional hints of cumin and other spices) and although the accompanying condiments are true to the authentic recipe, they are certainly not inspired.
When I queued there the last time – (and perhaps I use the word last in both ways, although I have nothing against the place and if very hungry and nearby – and definitely with a friend, – I would not be completely averse to stopping by again), my queue buddy, who has great skill in falafel, having travelled broadly through falafel-friendly Israel and Lebanon and having sampled various authentic, mouth-watering renditions of the dish, as well as having worked in restaurants, suggested that the queue is in fact a deliberate ploy by the owners, who she is certain “take their time” in preparing the food to keep people gathering.
I’m not sure if I agree with this cunning theory, but if I had to explain why a place serving decent but overall average food is so popular in Athens, I would probably have to point out that such a phenomenon is quite commonplace in this country. Over the decades I have seen numerous foreign or ‘exotic’ restaurants receiving massive hype by suddenly devout locals, who swear it’s the best Indian / Japanese / Thai / Ethiopian etc food they’ve ever tried, failing to mention that it’s also the first ever Indian / Japanese / Thai / Ethiopian etc food they’ve ever tried. It’s a given that as with art, and food is indeed a form of art at its best, one doesn’t necessarily need to have great experience to appreciate great flavour, yet having experience provides for achieving better, more well-rounded and textured judgement. I am all for novelty, variety and experimentation, but especially when a place like Falafellas, which has such great potential, starts to ride high on something just above mediocrity, it makes it unlikely that its potential will actually be reached by its ever realising it needs to try a little harder.
My Greek Review rating: