Free Falafel!

There’s a little bit of a war going on here in Paris on the rue des Rosiers, in the Marais. The Rue Des Rosiers is the Jewish street, sporting several good (and a few bad) bakeries, a few chic clothing stores, but a string of fafafel stands and restaurants. The most famous, L’As du Falafel, is always crowded, and teeming with locals, who come for their Heeb-Hop (Hebrew-Hop, as we call it), and tourists, who’ve read about L’As du Falafel in their guidebooks.

I always feel sorry for the other places on the street. There’s often deserted, while the throngs of people line up at L’As in search of their falafel-fix. The only time they seem to generate any interest is when L’As du Falafel closes for the Sabbath, on Friday nights and Saturdays. But a few weeks ago I started noticing handwritten signs on the place across the street, Mi-Va-Mi, with slogans like “Taste and Compare”, daring to take on the Ace o’ Falafel, just across the street.

Today as I stop by to get my weekly falafel, making a beeline for L’As, I notice a swarm of missionaries agressively confronting passers-by with plates brimming with warm falafel, followed closely by someone with a guest-check book, pen-to-the-paper, ready to take their order. The scene was curious, since the French haven’t quite grasped the concept of ‘Free Samples’ (or competition). When I asked a French friend why anyone rarely offers samples, I was told “Because it’s not ‘correct’. But there’s a guy at the fromagerie on the Î’le St-Louis who’s making a killing offering samples to passers-by, mostly tourists, who get one taste of great French cheese, and invariably come in and make a purchase.

Correct or not, that dude is rakin’ it in.

So although there’s no such thing as a free lunch, especially in Paris, there’s lots of free falafels to be had this week as the street is abuzz with people bearing heaping bowls of freshly-fried falafels. I don’t know how long it will last, and the offer doesn’t extend to those who’ve already purchased. (I tried to get one of the falafel-pushers to augment my half-eaten sandwich, but being très Paris, there’s little interest in the customer after the sale.)

And in an unlikely show of unity, as I was finishing up, I saw one of the fellows from L’As du Falafel pop one of his crisp falafels in the mouth of his main competitor, a woman who was offering falafels from Mi-Va-Mi. She stopped, took a taste, and nodded in agreement before going back to offering her falafels to all takers.

So perhaps there’s something to be said for the absence of competition.

(Although I appreciate the presence of free samples.)

L’As du Falafel
34, rue des Rosiers
Tél: 01 48 87 63 60

Mi-Va-Mi
27, rue des Ecouffes
Tél: 01 42 71 53 72

17 comments

  • I was one of those tourists who had read about L’As du Falafel in Marais (though not in a guidebook, but from a certain foodblog written by a well-known American in Paris:), and went to look for it back in May. On a Saturday – stupidly, we had forgotten about the Sabbath – and it was obviously closed. We ended up having falafels at Chez Marianne, which weren’t bad at all. How does Chez Marianne compare (if at all) with L’As du Falafel or Mi-V-Mi?

  • Did a couple of posts disappear?

  • I had a group about 4 years back that visited the Jewish Museum of Art and History http://www.mahj.org/defaultgb.htm
    then had great falafels at Cafe des Psaumes, 14-16 rue des Rosiers.
    Still there? Still good?

  • Hi David,
    Speaking of falafels, I went looking for the best falafels I’ve had in my life this weekend but discovered that the restaurant is now closed. When did it closed and where did it moved to, I have no idea. It dawnned on me that you used to work close-by at Chez Panisse; perhaps you might be able to help me. The first time I tasted these absolutely fabulous falafels was when I was still a kid and a family member who studied at UCB took me there. The falafels were extremely crisp, freshly fried, light and tiny — about half the size of one from L’As du Falafel in Paris. The insides were not tightly packed with chickpeas but rather quite airy. I have never had better falafels since. The restaurant used to be located in the middle of the block on Euclid between Hearst and Ridge. It was right next to a Chinese restaurant and directly opposite a theater (also now closed) and an Italian pizza place. Do you know or can you recall the name of the place? If not, are there any of your Berkeley or East Bay readers who might be able to tell me where to find its new location in the Bay Area? We moved back to the City this summer from many years abroad and have not the faintest idea whatever happened to this falafel hole-in-the-wall on Euclid in Berkeley. Thanks so much in advance.

  • Sorry, David, re: the double posting. I didn’t mean to!!! Told you I’m stupid. Anyway, I forgot to mention that the Italian pizza place still exists today — it’s called La Val’s Pizza. Address- 1834 Euclid Avenue, Berkeley, on the opposite side of the small street from the defunct falafel restaurant. Hope this bit of info helps you to help me!

  • Pille & Mariann: I always go for the ‘sure thing’ and eat at L’As. Someday I’ll try the other places, or maybe someone out there can let us know if they’re any good?

    Scott: Don’t think so. Everything seems ok in the archives.

    Stupid 2x: Hmmm, there used to be a good middle Eastern place up near Telegraph, but can’t recall the name either!

  • I had a pretty good meal at Mi v ami, but it was schwarma rather than falafel. You’ve reminded me that I need another trip to Paris to restock on some decent (if that’s not an oxymoron) kosher charcuterie.

  • We enjoyed the falafel at L’As du Falafel, but the very best thing on the menu was the chicken livers that my husband ordered. They literally made me swoon.

  • I’m almost sure the new place is owned by israelis (or ex-Israelis, if there’s something like that) because of the name (it’s in Hebrew) and the selling method :-/

  • I am an avid fan of L’as as well, and I look forward to going back in September. I always loved Jo Goldenberg too, even if it closed down for health department violations!!

    Vive L’as.

    Lesley

  • Yes, I laughed at this when I was in the queue at L’as du falafel last month. They were also handing out samples of their citronnade, which is ridiculously good. I love their slogan of ‘toujours imite, jamais egal’ and an endorsement from Lenny Kravitz underneath! I’m not a huge falafel fan but theirs had me swooning. It is seriously good, and I could really go some right now!

  • It has been a long time since I’ve had a falafel, at least since I was back in the states. I had to laugh when you recounted the comepting sides sharing samples.

  • I’ve had them both, and much prefer those at L’AsdF. They have a crisper crust and more interesting spicing. I, too, saw the sample table in July and was quite surprised and amused.

  • Speaking of the Marais, is there any way to get the recipie for the fennel-artichoke ragout at Chez Marianne? It’s one of the best things I’ve had in a long time. I’ve been experimenting and can’t get it right. I’d do just about anything to get the recipie.

    Merci!

  • Mmmmm, falafel. We had some good, fresh falafels & excellent tabbouleh from a place just off the Place Contrescarpe last month. if you stand at the door of Cafe Delmas, facing out, and look right, the shop is just there. The name Mi-Va-Mi also brought back happy memories of when I was about 18 and tasted my first schwarma at a place in Pretoria Street, Hillbrow (Johannesburg) – called Mi-Va-Mi! I thought it was the most exotic, delicious thing I had ever eaten. And afterwards we strolled across to the Hillbrow Record Centre and I bought my first CD – it was 1987 and my friends thought I was insane spending so much money on a record ;-)

  • I too was a witness of Falafel Wars as I passed through rue des Rosiers a couple of weeks ago. Things were getting pretty heated a falafel ball flew over my head and some tahini sauce landed on my shoe. Hollywood could make a film out of this.

  • Sorry guys, I went to L’as, it sucks, can’t find a decent falafel in Paris as far as i am concerned, thats some kind of euro falafel? Where can you get a nice falafel with tahine’ and beets! Maybe a little hotsauce? Any ideas??