Movable Feast: Falafel

By THE CURRENT STAFF

 
 

A mainstay of Middle Eastern snackery, the humble falafel finds favor this side of the Atlantic for three important reasons: it’s cheap, healthy (sort of) and satisfying. The falafel is nothing more, or less, than a fried ball of ground chickpeas served as a sandwich in pita bread. You’ll also find it atop salads or playing a supporting role as part of a platter.

Penn’s campus offers enough Middle Eastern dining options to make the most discerning falafel fiend happy, though we at the Current still sorely miss our longstanding favorite, Bitar’s, which disappeared from the Food Court last year. If you’ve been mourning that bastion of chickpea cuisine, here are three other worthy contenders for the “best on campus” award. If you still miss Bitar’s, you’ll have to make the pilgrimage to its remaining store at 10th and Federal.

Rami’s Luncheonette
40th Street and Locust Walk

For melt-in-the-mouth falafel and the warmest welcome on campus, head to Rami’s Luncheonette, a nondescript white food truck near the high-rise dorms. If you’re used to dense, dry falafel, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by Rami’s rendition. These falafel, accompanied by crunchy lettuce and tomato, are smooth, soft and savory, with a blend of spices that lifts them above the humdrum. Rami wraps his falafel in thin rounds of pita that he warms on the grill before rolling your sandwich up into a tidy foil-encased cylinder that’s easy to take back to the office—if you can make it that far without yielding to temptation.

Magic Carpet
34th and Walnut streets; 36th and Spruce streets

Like just about everything else at this vegetarian food truck, the falafel here is freshly made and so tasty you won’t even realize you’re eating fried food. The deep brown crust of Magic Carpet’s falafel crumbles easily, and yields a moist, flavorful inside. The friendly staff will serve up your generous helping of three falafel balls pretty much any way you want it—over brown rice, in a whole-wheat pita, with tabouli salad or with feta. Our favorite way to eat them is nestled on a bed of fresh salad greens, accompanied by thick hummus and drizzled with sesame-seed-laden tahini sauce.

Ali Baba
37th and Walnut streets

It’s easy to miss this lunch truck, which sits jammed in the middle of the many others that call the plaza alongside Pottruck home. But it’s worth seeking out, especially for those who enjoy their falafel just a tad on the greasy side. For $4.25, the truck offers a simple but substantial falafel platter that includes several fried chunks of flavorful, moist falafel, pita bread, lettuce, tomato, a hot pepper and some tahini sauce. The menu offers other falafel dishes, too, such as sandwiches with feta cheese and a variety of salads.

 

Originally published on September 22, 2005