One mistake that a lot of folks back home make when considering Turkish food is the assumption that Turks eat hummus and falafel. While these are pretty standard fare southward in Syria, northwestward in Greece, and even eastward in Armenia, by and large hummus is not considered “Turkish cuisine.” Nor is falafel.
The exception to this rule is down in Antakya/Hatay, a little province in the very south, right next to Syria. Actually, it was part of Syria until 1939, when it joined Turkey after a fun and intrigue-filled international political wrangle. This is partially why its traditional food includes hummus. While it was fairly easy to find my go-to hummus place in Antakya (great little hole in the wall called Hummus ve Bakla, they serve 2 things: hummus and bakla), it took a little time to find my place in Istanbul.
Luckily, I have found my Istanbul hummus and falafel place, and it’s even cheap and centrally located. What more can one ask for? Falafel House is an embarrassingly huge part of my Istanbul. It’s located just off Taksim Square, which makes it perfect for after-work falafel dinners, picking up take-out hummus on the way home from an evening out, or meeting folks from other far-flung parts of the city. I am so glad it doesn’t deliver to Fatih, or I’d probably only eat falafel.
Although Falafel House’s location is absurdly convenient, it’s only a small part of what keeps me going back. The food, quite simply, is amazing. Falafel House is run by Palestinians who’ve set up shop in Istanbul, and they know how to do hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, fuul, and a few other Middle Eastern staples. The hummus comes generously slathered on a plate, topped with olive oil, with pickles and spicy red sauce on the side. The falafel is fried fresh and served still-steaming plain, in a wrap, or, my usual choice, in a pita pocket with lettuce, tomato, pepper and yogurt sauce. Phenomenal. The prices are quite reasonable as well: Two falafel pitas, two Diet Cokes and a plate of hummus to split will set you back a princely TL 16, total. Hummus to go is something like TL 4. And, if you’re a student, there’s a 20 percent discount. Score.
I end up at Falafel House absurdly frequently – they recognize me when I come in and know both my eat-in and to-go orders. I’ve chosen to embrace it, and my new goal is to get a special named after me. I think I can swing it with the falafel pita, hummus side and Diet Coke. We’ll see.
Falafel House certainly isn’t a tourist must-visit, and isn’t the kind of snazzy place written about in restaurant guides of the city, but is definitely an essential part of my Istanbul. If you’re passing through and missing falafel, or live here, I highly recommend it.
Sehit Muhtar Cad. 19
(From Taksim, find the Simit Sarayi on Tarlabasi, turn in down the pedestrianized street about a block. It’s on the left)