Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Falafel has gone from being an obscure specialty to one that is familiar to most across the land. The pita bread sandwich is the vehicle most often used to deliver the deep-fried crusty balls or patties, along with salad and tahini sauce.
To many aficionados, the secret ingredient that separates the good from the mediocre is the use of fava beans. Falafel originated in Egypt, where it was made with fava beans. As falafel migrated north to areas such as Israel and Palestine, chickpeas were substituted for the fava beans. Falafel is now typically made with chickpeas, fava beans (to a much lesser extent), or a mixture of the two. See my story here on Ful Mudammas, a delectable salad made with fava beans.
Once on MacDougal Street between West 3rd and Bleecker Streets, Mamoun's is easy to find. Just look for lines spilling out the door. Mamoun's is famous, and the number of reviews reflects that - on Yelp.com alone, there are over 400 reviews to date. They were the first to introduce falafel to New York City and one of the first Middle Eastern restaurants in the United States.
Mamoun's averages high rankings on most food sites. However, there are naysayers - some of the reviewers disappointed with the food were puzzled by the lines. But this is usually easy to explain. Restaurants generally have lines for only a few reasons: hype, food quality, quantity, pricing, and overall value. And although many things are subject to debate about Mamoun's, pricing is not one of them - a falafel sandwich there is only $2.95, explaining why Mamoun's has been a perennial favorite of college students.
The place is primarily takeout, and there is very limited seating. It is a tiny, cramped, and not particularly pleasant shop. Turning out the volume of food that the place serves is nothing short of a miracle. To watch the man scooping small balls of falafel into the deep frier is mesmerizing - the unending production must be a mind numbing task. The menu features a handful of items.
Mamoun's, at 119 MacDougal Street, was opened in 1971. They have two other locations - one in the East Village on St. Marks Place and one in New Haven, Connecticut. Some love the place, others deplore it. Many say there are much better places to get falafel, and yet some feel that a full New York experience cannot be had without at least one trip to Mamoun's...