Falafel with a Side of Fire



An aspiring chef, I am curious about cuisines from other cultures. Sometimes, I am introduced to the food by traveling to a country, yet other times I discover it in my own backyard of New York City. In the case of my love for falafel, I can’t quite pinpoint when I fell for the fried chickpeas. It might have been when in the Middle East or on West 4th Street where the chickpeas sizzle into fried goodness on street corners.

When my Israeli roommate suggested we cook falafel one evening, I jumped at the opportunity. However, I quickly learned to never assume someone is actually an expert in the cuisine merely because he is from that country. My roommate had actually never made falafel before that evening. Regardless, he committed to the authenticity of the cooking experience by calling home for the recipe. Several scribbled ingredients and a grocery shopping trip later, we began our culinary adventure.

Novices in the kitchen, we thought: “how hard could falafel be to cook? It’s just small balls of vegetables?” As we mixed the ingredients, I turned on the burner with oil to prepare for the frying. By the time we dropped the batter into the pan, we knew something was not quite right. Steam sizzled from the stove as if it was hot pavement. Quickly, the light brown consistency began to turn darker as smoke filled the kitchen.

In a state of panic, we turned off the stove and waived towels through the air to cut the smoke. We looked ridiculous as we jumped up and down to reach the ceiling. By the time, we opened the window, our fire alarm was blaring so loudly, we could barely hear ourselves

Because we lived in an college subsidized apartment building, the smoke detector instantly triggered the fire department.  I could hear the sirens wailing in the background. One by one, the doors on our hallway opened and the sounds of footsteps pounded down the hallway as my neighbors evacuated the building.

My roommate and I glanced at each other: do we evacuate or stay? Technically, there was not a fire, anymore. Rather than be ridiculed by the entire building, we prefered the privacy of the fire department coming to us. However, the excruciating sound of the alarm left us with no other option than to leave the apartment and wait with the others on the front lawn. We received scowls worse than the disapproving looks of the walk of shame as we exited the building. Somehow, everyone knew it was us. It might have been the stench of burnt chickpeas that has seeped into our clothes.

When the fire department arrived, we trucked up the stairs to our smoke infused apartment. We received a warning to never again heat a pan with oil for longer than a minute. Cooking 101 had apparently not been on our course list of how to be a grown-up taught by life.

That night and for the next few weeks, we went out to dinner. Each time we returned to our building with groceries, our neighbors looked at us suspiciously. When we did eventually cook, we stuck to simpler cuisines that didn’t involve falafel with a side of fire.

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