A classic street food dish from Lebanon, made at Arabica
“There isn’t a ‘right’ way of making it,” says James Walters, owner of Arabica Bar and Kitchen, when probed about the origins of the deliciously humble foodstuff that is falafel. “It is essentially a ground pulse—either broad beans or chickpeas, or a combination of the two, with herbs and spices. But it differs region to region, and even family to family.”
His is, though, as close to Lebanese falafel as you’ll find outside Lebanon: “It’s a very traditional recipe, I can’t take any credit for it! The street food dishes we do are classic recipes, done our way.”
Chickpeas and broad beans, onions, green and red peppers, fresh chilli, fresh coriander and coriander seeds, parsley, cumin seeds, “a little bit of bicarb and sesame to help fluff it up”—and that’s just the falafel.
Each mouthful of the Beiruti wrap brings new waves of flavour: with one comes the peppery, juicy burst of radish; another the audible crunch of pickled turnip, “pickled with beetroot so you have this beautiful iridescent, incredible pink colour”.
The falafel is soft and crumbly on the inside, crisp on the outside; the tahini sauce is smooth and creamy, with just a hint of garlic—and impossible not to get all over your face and hands, particularly when snaffled round the back of the Market Hall while still warm, so as not to be asked to share a bite.
Garnished with fresh parsley and mint leaves, a few slices of tomato and a kick of chilli sauce “to add a little je ne sais quoi”, it’s all wrapped up in a thin, traditional flat bread. “And that,” says James, “is the mean Beiruti wrap.”
Attention to detail
The key, he continues, is in the quality of the raw ingredients and “the attention to detail. The freshness of the oil we’re frying the falafel in. We source fresh vegetables from the Market—Paul Wheeler, Chegworth Valley, Ted’s Veg. We use bits and pieces from Neal’s Yard Dairy, Hook & Son. Other ingredients I import directly, such as the tahini and the chillies, or from specialist importers.”
Everything is made from scratch: the falafel, the chopped salad, the chilli sauce—a combination of chilli flakes, tomato paste and salt. “It’s a medium sauce, not super-hot, with a nice salty edge which means we haven’t got to season every wrap.”
Arabica started as a small lunchtime stall selling simple falafel wraps, inspired by many trips to Jordan, Lebanon and Israel, and “many a late night falafel”. Over the years Arabica has evolved from street food start-up to highly acclaimed restaurant. Its falafel wrap, in the form of this new and improved Beiruti, has evolved alongside it.