A mouthful of falafel in Wadi Nisnas

by Sarah on April 28, 2011

Wadi nisnas, Haifa

This is the first installment of Haifa’s street food tour. If you know Hebrew and don’t want to wait, see Erez Ruder’s guest post, The Flavors of Childhood.

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Lost and unorganized I ended up shouting to a fellow on a second floor balcony “Where is Wadi Nisnas?” Drinking black coffee and still in his undershirt, he pointed towards an old staircase, preferring not to disturb the stillness of the morning. The summer’s heat was already creating swirling mirages on the pavements and the streets and alley ways of Haifa’s old Christian quarter were empty. Tuesday, I soon learned, many of the vendors take a day off and those who do open retire to the coolness of their shops. Mongoose Wadi, as it is known in Arabic, is a microcosm of history and tradition, most accessible through its street food.

Alone and without preconceived ideas (or even a map, in my case) is one method to explore the city. Another approach  is to go with someone who has been walking its streets since childhood. Recently I had an opportunity to do just that, tagging along with Erez Ruder and his wife, Yael, as they walked down memory lane and into the Haifa’s best falafel stand.

falafel michel, haifa, wadi nisnas

Michel's, one of the best falafels in Israel

“I would never eat falafel anywhere else” he said while we ordered half pitas at Michel’s, “It’s like a religion”. And like religion one must be born into it. His father first took him to eat falafel here forty years ago and his children may very well be eating here years from now.

falafel michel wadi nisnas, Haifa

Frying falafel at Michel's

We perched ourselves around a little table, tackling our sandwiches in blissful abandon. Falafel is meant to be eaten fast, when the chickpea balls are still hot, the cucumbers crunchy and the tomatoes have not made a hole in the bottom of the pita. It’s an insubordinate sandwich with a tendency to fall apart if not held with two hands. In my case, even if I do.

Everyone agrees that no matter how rushed, it is essential to wait the extra minute or two for the vendor to freshly fry the falafel. Never ever go to a stand that keeps their falafel warm using a hot plate. What isn’t so clear is why even the best establishments offer extraordinarily useless waxy napkins. Try wiping a face smeared with tehina sauce with those translucent squares.

falafel, hazeknim, haifa, wadi nisnas

Falafel Hazeknim, street food competition between falafel stands

As we sat there ruffling the stray crumbs from our clothes it occurred to me that falafel stands are a haven of coexistence. Muslim, Christians, Jews, vegetarians and meat lovers sit together in harmony, their mouths too full to throw epithets at one another. Instead of the gobbledygook of the politicians and activists, more falafel stands should be built in the name of peace.

Indeed, there is nowhere else in the Middle East where such a diversity of people and religions can interact with such ease. Although falafel is popular throughout the Levant and now far beyond, it has come to symbolize Israeli food precisely because it is universally loved.

But even here some topics are best avoided.”I ate falafel at George’s in Wadi Nisnas on my last visit” I told Erez enthusiastically, “and it was pretty good”.  He listened to me politely, used to those trying to convert him and not remotely convinced. I changed the subject.

falafel george, wadi nisnas, haifa, israel

A sign outside George Falafel, #1 in Israel

Falafel shops in Haifa worth stopping for:

Michel’s Falafel: 21 Wadi Road, Haifa

Hazeknim – Opposite Michel’s

George’s Falafel: 26 Yohanan HaKadosh, Haifa

For those who live too far from Haifa here is a falafel recipe (and a bit of history) until you come visit.

This is a closeup look at George’s Falafel Stand:

Related Posts with Thumbnails

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Chez Loulou April 28, 2011 at 4:33 am

Simply fantastic! I can imagine how they taste and am wishing I could come for a visit.

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Yael April 28, 2011 at 5:14 am

Wow! What a wonderful post. I enjoy reading you every time but this one is really outstanding.

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Yaelian April 28, 2011 at 7:29 am

Lovely post Sarah! I have been to Wadi Nisnash when I lived in the north and I have even eaten in that same falaffel place!

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usha April 28, 2011 at 8:35 am

Lovely post, Sarah, as always.
I had my fill of falafels in my numerous visits to the Emirates…and never tired of them.Must make some soon and will let you know how it went.

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Erez Ruder April 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

Beautiful post. Its nice to see your point of view of that haifa tour. looking forward the next chapter and our next tour in haifa.

Erez

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Sarah April 30, 2011 at 12:37 am

Thanks Erez for that great food tour and can’t wait for the next one!

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Sarah April 30, 2011 at 12:41 am

Chez Loulou, Thank you, if you come to Israel you’ll get a private tour!

Usha, Thanks!

Yael, We should go on food tours more often

Yaelian, You are such a well traveled person, you’ve been to all the places I write about!

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Dewi April 30, 2011 at 8:41 am

Falafel is my favorite thing to eat. Unfortunately, I still couldn’t find the best falafel place in my neighborhood. So, I have to make my own. Great post sarah. Thank you!

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Sarah April 30, 2011 at 10:14 am

Thanks Dewi!

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Miriyummy May 1, 2011 at 12:30 am

I really enjoyed that, can’t wait for the next installment.

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Jamie May 3, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Mmmmm now I know what I will be eating in Paris next week: felafel! Beautifully written post to go along with moutwatering, tempting descriptions of this fabulous food. And it brings back memories of discovering felafel for the first time in Israel!

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Sarah May 4, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Thank you Jamie!

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Katherine Martinelli June 17, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Just wonderful! I’m embarrassed to say that after 10 months of living in Israel I still haven’t made it to Haifa! Soooon!

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Sarah June 20, 2011 at 11:26 am

Thanks Katherine, Don’t worry about it, Do you know how long it took me to get to the souk in Haifa? I am embarrassed to say

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Bassam Ganam September 15, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Ich komme aus wadi nisnas, und bin sehr froh meine Haimat Haifa (wadi nisnas ) zu sehen. mein liblings Falafel ist Mischel-falafel. Danke Sarha, und viele Grüsse aus Bern Schweiz.

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Sarah September 15, 2011 at 9:32 pm

Thank you Bassam Ganam, I fell in love with Wadi Nisnas on my first vist, especially with Falafel Michel.

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Bassam Ganam September 22, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Es freut mich, dass du mein Haimat gern hast. Hoffe das du Wadi Nisnas wieder besuchst. liebe Grüsse Bassam

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Terry July 24, 2013 at 5:01 am

I’m all in for falafel diplomacy!

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