Unlike hummus , the way in which falafel is consumed in Britain has not departed too far from the source: fried to order, and then eaten at a restaurant as part of a mezze, or wrapped in bread with tahini sauce, pickled vegetables and fresh salad, and purchased at a street stand.
It’s true that aberrations have emerged, with the rising popularity of veganism and health-conscious eating leading to baked shadows of falafel, mostly stocked in supermarket fridges. Perhaps more forgivable in sandwich form, they are pale imitations of the textural wonder that is a falafel, served hot, just bubbling in oil moments earlier. A cold croquette is unthinkable; perhaps a cold falafel should be, too.
The good news is that fried falafel is not hard to make, nor difficult to find in London. In wrap form, the bread is usually a generic khobez flatbread that does the trick well enough, holding the ingredients in place plus allowing falafel’s trademark crisp/soft contrast to shine.
Most further innovations on the normative London falafel wrap begin with the choice of bread, and then abundant variations emerge in the choice of salads, pickles, and condiments on offer. When the falafel is great, though, it is probably worth just ordering a wrapless portion.
In terms of the style of the falafels themselves, a verdant herbaceous filling is usually the preferred choice for most lovers, and this Levantine version originates with the availability of fresh herbs. A spice-heavy, golden inside — ubiquitous in Yemen but also common throughout the Levant, can be an equally delicious alternative. In Egypt, meanwhile, falafel is known as tameeya , and is made with fava beans instead of chickpeas.
This diversity of style can be found across London’s falafel slingers, but the city could look outside itself for even more innovation when it comes to the filling. In Cairo, tameeya can come with a surprising chilli relish in the centre, and in Jaffa, falafel are often stuffed with a mixture of slow-cooked onions, heavily spiced with sumac, that are usually found on the chicken dish msakahan. But for diners looking to explore falafel’s diverse forms, London is an undoubtedly a worthy place to begin.
Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.