Rock music bounces off brick walls and I bite into my falafel with equal ferocity. I am in Amsterdam Falafel in Adams Morgan, or is it Amsterdam? The street sign reads an address in Dutch. The white board feels the need to tell us that the brownies are virgin. And they take euros. But I am taken back to another place.
To tales of my mother, a sleepwalker as a child, munching on an imaginary falafel as she roamed the Tel Aviv house at night. Images of falafel stands in Haifa, with their displays of salads piled high, pickles and condiments that found their way into my dissertation. “The king of falafel,” they boast in Hebrew. But the icon of Israeli cuisine is a product of Palestinian businesses.
Amsterdam Falafel is falafel on steroids. The basic toppings at the Haifa stands explode into a profusion of varieties: smoky eggplant salad; pickled beets, pale pink turnips and shredded red cabbage, coriander flecked chickpeas, fried eggplant, three kinds of green hot sauce. Limitless tahini from the fountain. I crush the falafel balls inside the pita, the way the instructions on the board advise. This way I can fit more toppings in. After several visits, I hit on a perfect combination: the smoky eggplant plays beautifully off the sweet stringency of the pickled beets. Still, I cannot relinquish the classical diced cucumber and tomato salad; it’s part of the basic palette of falafel, just like the tahini. So those go in as well.
I take a seat at the counter by the wall and dig in to Led Zeppelin. As I eat my way through the falafel, I see I have perfected the art of creating a uniform sandwich all the way down. The texture of the deep fried garbanzos – the falafel itself -- is sturdy enough to hold its own against the toppings, so it tastes like a falafel and salad platter, only vertical.
Eventually, I start getting full. As I slow down my eating, the music changes to reggae. Bob Marley weeping for Zion.