On a budget Authentic dishes full of Middle Eastern flavour
It has been a long time coming but I think the penny may have finally dropped. For years, I thought it was a straight choice between Italian and French when it came to my favourite food. And yet, the more I contemplate it, the more I realise all culinary roads may well lead to Jerusalem after all.
Much as I love a classic coq au vin or a perfectly made aubergine Parmigiana, life would be a lot more dull without Middle Eastern dishes such as shakshuka (a fiery, spicy Israeli breakfast dish of eggs cooked with garlic, red peppers and tomatoes) or a soothing dish of tabbouleh. The food of the Middle East is fragrant and vibrant and I can't get enough of it.
Good Middle Eastern food is harder to find in Bristol than it is in London, but things are improving thanks to excellent new outlets such as the recently launched Eat a Pitta falafel stall in St Nicholas Market.
The Falafel King mobile van has long been a fixture in the city centre but its permanent site on Cotham Hill may be less familiar.
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An all-day café with its own enclosed shisha garden and a basement area that hosts live music, it's a genuine slice of the Middle East in leafy BS6.
Family-run and linked to the St Philips-based Abu Noor bakery that provides the excellent pittas and flatbreads for the café, it's a colourful, buzzy place with mosaic tile tables, shisha pipes, ornate brass lanterns, spiky plants and swirling Arabic music.
As well as the falafels and hummus, there are plenty of other authentic dishes, including shakshuka, sabich (aubergine, hard-boiled egg and hummus) and green omelette (two eggs with fresh green herbs and spices).
Prices are generally under £5, although the mezze plate comprising a range of dips, salads, falafels, stuffed vine leaves and Moroccan cigars (crisp, fried filo pastry rolls of minced meat) costs £8.
I went for the £4.95 falafel in laffa (a thin flatbread) and it was spot on. The warm flatbread had been wrapped tightly around a generous filling of half a dozen small, freshly fried falafel balls, a layer of silky hummus and scoops of various salads – carrot, red cabbage, cucumber – and a final drizzle of tahini and chilli sauce. OK, tricky to eat without the inevitable shirt splashes, but well worth the laundry bill.
I followed it with lemon cheese tart (£2.50), which was essentially a raisin-studded, nutmeg-dusted lemon cheesecake within a pastry case. And very good it was, too, the lemon adding a zesty tang to the sweet soft cheese filling.