When it comes to street food, there's no one like Astoria's Fares Zeideia ("Freddy" to everyone that knows him), the self-appointed King of Falafel and Shawarma and bronze medal winner of our top falafel sandwich championship. If you've ever visited his cart in Astoria (or his new one in Midtown), you've probably been passed an on-the-house falafel, fresh from the fryer, while you wait on line. If you haven't, you should know that Freddy's King of Falafel title is well deserved.
A few months ago Freddy released his first consumer goods: frozen heat-and-eat falafel and the raw spiced chickpea mix to fry at home. You can find both products in some Astoria supermarkets, Balady Halal in Bay Ridge, Al Aqsa in Clifton, NJ, and at Trade Fair locations around the city (except the Metropolitan Avenue location). Could falafel reheated at home possibly be as good as the real thing? Could I fry falafel as well as Freddy? I picked up some packages to find out.
For $3.99 you get an 11.5 ounce package with about nine or ten falafel. Freddy's oblong fritters are larger than most, a little over an ounce each; four or five make a well-stuffed pita sandwich. There are instructions for baking the falafel in an oven or cooking them in a microwave—opt for the former to keep their crispness intact. After about ten minutes in a moderate oven they came out hot and crisp, with just a little oil seeping up to the surface.
How'd they taste? Falafel connoisseurs—and Freddy fans in particular—will be able to tell that these aren't quite as crisp, light, or intensely flavored as when they're fresh. But as a quick fix for a homemade falafel sandwich or as part of an impromptu snack platter? They're pretty solid stuff.
If you're willing to deep fry at home, go for the frozen falafel mix. Priced at $2.99 for 24 ounces, it makes about 20 Freddy-sized falafel, though one of the joys of frying your own falafel is forming it into whatever shapes you want. Prefer spheres? Go for it. Like Egyptian-style lentil-shaped patties? Those were my favorite.
The mix is a little dry, so you'd do well to wet your hands before forming it into shapes. Dig around and you'll find bits of herb, onion, and spices in the coarsely ground chickpeas. Compared to some commercial falafel mixes with long, additive-enriched ingredient lists, Freddy's falafel mix is straightforward stuff.
The instructions call for heating vegetable oil to 375°F, then to fry five or six falafel at a time until they're brown and crisp, about three to four minutes. Your eyes are your best guide: look for a dark mahogany crust that feels solid when prodded with a wooden spoon. After a quick drain on paper towels the falafel are ready to go.
Short of frying my Freddy mix in the same pot as the one at his cart, I can't do a side-by-side comparison of my fresh-from-the-fryer falafel against Freddy's, but I've eaten from the cart enough to know that these are the real deal. Super-crisp, full of warm spices, with just a hint of onion richness, they're everything great falafel should be.
What To Do With Them?
True Freddy fans know that his falafel sandwich, made with subpar pita, isn't the best the cart has to offer—his falafel over rice, with plenty of tahini, hot sauce, and pickles, is the way to go. But in the privacy of your own kitchen you're free to use whatever pita you like; Brooklyn's Damascus bakery, common in many Middle Eastern markets, is a good pick to get you started.
Or skip the sandwich all together and eat falafel the way some of Astoria's Egyptians do: for breakfast. With some foul (stewed fava beans), bread, cheese, and cucumber salad, it's a hell of a way to start your day.
Want to try the falafel yourself? Head this way for store locations and more information.
PS: Turns out the King is looking to expand to a brick and mortar space. Keep an eye out for more updates.