Welcome to the Republic… of falafel that is!

In the narrow streets of the old town of Birzeit, West Bank, in the Palestinian Territories, you’ll come across a wooden sign with the words ‘Falafel Republic’ etched into it. No lover of good falafel can resist going in, especially when falafel is teamed with the word ‘Republic’. Little did I know that not only the falafel was going to be epic at this hidden gem but that the people behind the restaurant would be nothing short of legendary.

May I present you to Peter & his mum, Um Peter – the gifted hands behind the food. Peter took over the family restaurant some 2 years ago without any formal kitchen training and has learnt everything he knows on the go. Despite his mum being a natural born cook, Peter jokes that she wasn’t so great at teaching him to cook cause of her lack of patience to talk him through things when he’d screw up. Um Peter is a no non-sense kind of woman, which is absolutely essential to working in a professional kitchen. So every time Peter would mess up, she’d jump in to rectify the sticky situation and hand it back to him only to take over again when he next fluffed up.

As time passed, Peter’s love for cooking was able to shine through and today I can definitely say he is one heck of a cook. He is the perfect example of someone having learned on a trial-and-error basis to come out on top. He didn’t simply follow recipes he was taught. He let his taste buds be his guide and regularly revisits his own recipes to make sure he’s happy with the taste. Aside from their dishes of the day, which include a number of household classics, you can also pre-order the dishes that are more laborious to prepare & cook: ones that most people don’t have time to do at home nowadays. And so we did...

 

We ordered ‘Makloubeh’ (literally meaning upside down in Arabic) which is probably one of my all-time favourite dishes in Arabic Cooking. While the name gives the concept behind the dish away, it’s a rice-based dish with different, previously fried vegetables layered in between rice, typically including aubergine, cauliflower, carrot & potato. Sometimes it will include chicken or meat, pre-cooked to the point of locking in all the juices and left to slow cook through with a nice meat stock, altogether in a massive cooking pot.

Once the dish is ready, it is turned over onto a big silver tray and beat down to make sure the bottom layer that ends up getting stuck to the pot as is closest to the heat (BEST PART hands down!) lets go of the rest of the layers to form a mountain of this sticky rice dish on the tray beneath it. Yoghurt usually accompanies this culinary classic and to be honest, brings all the flavours together in exactly the right way.

by Mayya Papaya

More about Mayya and foodism on her page