Around 12pm, when you take the turn around the circle at the heart of Givat Olga, my home town, a few things will happen. First your nose will pick up a spicy, fried delicious smell, then your mouth will water on its own volition. Your car will drive itself to the corner and you’ll find yourself parked in front of a tiny trailer with (usually) a long, but rapidly moving line.
This is the Ashtar brothers kingdom. Shimon and Adi rule over this minuscule trailer with charm, grace and efficiency. Sons to a Yemenite father and a Libyan mother, they inherited an ease and speed in the kitchen to be envied. Their offerings are limited and simple, but all is freshly made from scratch everyday. Have I piqued your interest yet?
So first comes Falafel – the king of the Israeli street food. Adapted from Egypt, Lebanon and Syria – it is now served in the Israeli Melting Pot style: you can have it with Yemenite S’hug (a VERY spicy condiment), Indian/Iraqi Amba (mango condiment), Kurdish pickles and more. Shimon and Adi’s selection of salads is small and classic: chopped Israeli salad, pickles, hummus and Tehinah, s’hug and Amba. The pita is fresh and locally baked (of course).
Their falafel is crisp and crunchy, flavorful and piping hot. As you bite into the ensemble in the pita, you’ve got to have napkins at the ready; Tehinah will drip down your chin and you’ll find yourself involuntarily licking your fingers. No shame in that! Not here!!
Shimon on his break
I caught Shimon on his cigarette break and he shared that everything is made by his mother. The brothers fry and assemble on location to order. Rachel, the mother, makes by hand the foundation for my favorite guilty pleasure – the Bourikah. Many people are familiar with Bourekas: puff pastry filled with choice of savory fillings (cheese, spinach, potatoes) and baked to a crispy golden deliciousness. Bourikah is made of a single, thin, see through leaf of dough, filled with either seasoned mashed potato or a raw egg. That leaf is then dropped into sizzling hot oil and fried into a crispy, golden half circle that is indescribable… Another staple for the Ashtar brothers.
There is yet another handheld treat that encompasses all – a Bourikah inside a pita with falafel and the trimmings. As we say in Hebrew “Shehitoot” – corruption… Imagine the soft pita enfolding the crispy bourikah, the crispy falafels nestled in between the layers, interspersed with Israeli salad, pickles, hummus and spicy S’hug. As you bite into it, you get tender pita, the crisp bourikah leaf, the egg yolk breaks open over the crispy falafel… Sorry have to take a break – I am salivating… Again!
Adi putting together the Pita-Bourika ensemble
Despite the cars that are double parked, the long lines, the hot temperature in and outside their tiny kitchen, the brothers run their stand with quiet and pleasant order. People call out orders from their car, kids from the adjacent school shout hello and request freebies (which they sometime get), people visit and ask after their parents and a chaotic, good hearted sense of community is created.
So if you are ever in Israel and want to join the party, come try the real deal – Falafel and Bourikah; humble, authentic, fresh and delicious! Seek out Adi and Shimon, tell them that Zehorit from Minneapolis sent you and your taste buds will be eternally grateful!