Ah, falafel! The deep fried balls of chickpea most commonly found in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine are a vegetarian or vegan’s best friend (though they don’t usually say much). Though the history of this hearty foodstuff is somewhat unknown and mysterious, it is mostly accepted that it was first eaten in Egypt (originally made with fava beans) as a replacement for meat during Lent. As falafel’s popularity grew, so did its uses, and it evolved to become a type of street-food or is used as part of a meze. It is now regarded proudly as the national dish of Egypt, Palestine and Israel.
It remains as a great option for vegetarians and vegans because it is a filling and tasty alternate to meat. I have to say that I sometimes find it to be dry and poorly flavoured, if made and cooked poorly. Thus, it was with a little trepidation that I decided to try some of Tokyo’s falafel fare. Surely the Shinsen based cafe called ‘Kuumbu du Falafel’ would not slip into this culinary trap? (Location and menu link here – Kuumba International).
Regardless of its proximity to Shinsen station, ‘Kuumbu du Falafel’ is still in an unusual position. We took the uninspiring, 246-Highway based walk to the establishment through the persistent Japanese summer rain (call it a falafel pilgrimage if you will) and found ourselves really ready for nourishing vegetarian food when we arrived.
It certainly did not disappoint. Upon ordering the lunch set; we were quickly presented with a thin, but refreshing lentil soup. The falafel pita sandwiches arrived one at a time, when they were ready, and served to be a delight. I was overjoyed to find heaps of nutritious salad which was laced with dollops of rich hummus. The falafel sat at the bottom of a true foody feast and was packed full of great spices and flavour. It was not consistent with my memories of previous dry-as-the-Sahara falafel and was cooked very well indeed.
Kuumba has a laid back feel. You sit at a counter and listen to a range of eclectic and tuneful music. The service is a little cool at first, and warm at the last. This cafe is certainly one that would serve as a relatively quick (and cheap – my lunch set was only 1000 yen) lunch or early evening meal (plated meals are available), though its location does restrict its use as a stop off during sightseeing sessions. As the review on Time Out suggests, “Tokyo’s best falafel shop seems to go out of its way to disguise itself” (link – Time Out). This is fair comment.
That said, good falafel is worth making the effort for and ‘Kuumbu du Falafel’ will certainly provide that. Why not give it a go to find yourself as satisfied as I was?