You might be inclined to walk right past: It’s a hole in the wall – three metres wide to be precise – with just a few tables, a salad bar, a fridge with drinks and a counter where you order. Just like every other place that serves pitas and kebabs – but with a major exception. There’s only one thing on the menu: falafel.
Mr Falafel, otherwise known as Shawkat, is a friendly Egyptian from Amsterdam who traded in the Dutch capital for the Flemish one when he noticed the latter’s lack of falafel snack bars, which are commonplace in the Netherlands. Though not vegetarian himself (or French-speaking, for that matter), he opened the strictly veggie Mr Falafel in 2008, adorning his window with one word: végétarien.
Shawkat prepares the mixture for the falafel fresh daily using ground chickpeas, fava beans, onions, leeks and an array of aromatic herbs like coriander, parsley and dill. He fries the balls in oil until hot and crispy before plopping them inside the tender, chewy pita bread.
My friend, to whom I am now forever grateful for introducing me to this place, takes his pita to the salad bar and starts filling it up with vegetables and sauces. I follow suit, stuffing my pita with cabbage, beets, cucumbers, pickled pepper, iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, red onion and loads of garlic sauce, spicy sambal and tahini, an earthy sesame seed paste. We even get a small side dish to fill up with extra veggies.
While it’s easy to find this traditional Middle Eastern dish across Brussels and Flanders, Mr Falafel’s is the best I’ve ever eaten. What strikes me the most is that the falafels are so soft and moist on the inside – not a hint of dryness. And they are literally bursting with fresh herb flavour, especially coriander.
The dining experience itself is relaxed and no-frills. The owner’s doll-like toddler peers at us curiously from around the corner while we eat. After the last delicious bite, we’re full and satisfied and amazed to only owe €8 for the two falafels and side salads.
53 Boulevard Maurice Lemonnier, Brussels
Daily, noon to midnight
Brussels’ tiniest, tastiest all-vegetarian falafel joint
This review was originally published in Flanders Today