Sometimes fabulous food is found in the most unlikely locations. A falafel cart in the entrance to the Waikiki Trade Center may not be the first place you’d think to go when headed to Waikiki but its home to freshly made kebabs, chicken and lamb sandwiches, hummus, salads and the single best serving of falafel in the city.Much like street carts found in New York, this falafel cart serves fresh, hot and cold entrees with home made flair. And while the initial aim of owner Yanir Josef was to appeal to the hungry tourist market, it turns out that locals love falafel too.“ We originally thought that we would just serve visitors to Hawaii,” says the softly spoken Israeli native who runs the business with his wife, Aviv, “but what’s amazing is that so much of our business is from local people.” Many work in the Waikiki area, others make a special trip – the trip seems understandable once you’ve tasted Josef’s fresh take on a simple concept.
Those familiar with falafel know that a perfect garbanzo ball should be soft and somewhat moist on the inside, golden and crisp on the outside.The problem with most is that they are cooked too long – resulting in a dry interior and burnt extrerior – or they fall apart when touched, denying the diner the unique pleasure of hot, crisp crust and warm flavorful interior.Josef’s falafel is perfect. Firm, moist and with a delicate blend of onion, cilantro and spices imported from Israel, the ball of beans is packed with flavor and can be eaten alone- with a variety of house made sauces, within a soft, pita sandwich or as an accompaniment to the small variety of dishes offered on the menu.The secret comes with a balance of soaking, cooking, blending and serving at the right time. “A falafel takes two days to make and has to be cooked at the time of eating,” says Yanir. “It’s most important that the ingredients are fresh and that the falafel is made to order.”Going for the first time then try the falafel, as well as shwarama – a lamb and beef sandwich wrapped in fresh, warm pita – kebabs, baba ganoush, tabouleh and hummus. Perhaps the most addicitive part of a trip to the cart comes in the form of crunchy pita chips. Sliced from the top of pita bread, the thin strips are tossed in Israeli seasoning, quickly deep fried and served on the side with an equally addictive home made dip.
“We didn’t want to throw away all of the top pieces of the pita bread,” says Yanir, “so we came up with the idea of the chips and seasoned them.”Falafel and fried pita chips? Definitely on my list for top ten dishes of the year. And for those unwilling to make the trip to Waikiki – especially during this historic APEC week – then there’s more good news. Look for a falafel food truck coming to a neighborhood near you.
“We’re so happy that local people like our food,” says Yanir, “we want to take it to as many people as we can.” Opening hours at The Waikiki Trade Center (main lobby) are 10 am – 4 am with a short day on Monday when the cart is only open until 2 am. Don’t expect anything fancy in terms of seating – it’s pretty much grab and go – but do expect something great to eat. And breaking news….there’s a falafel cart by Down To Earth that’s open daily from 11 am – 3pm.
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