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The Time I Found God in Beersheba. Then Ate Him.

I not-so-recently found the greatest falafel stand in all of the world, and I regret that I’ve only had time to write about it now. But yes, no hyperbole, the best in the entire wide world of falafel stands is in the shuk in Beersheba, and if you eat one you will never, ever be the same again. But first, a primer: The standby rules to keep in mind when ordering falafel. The first: Do not buy it in a bus station. Bus station falafel is almost universally bad. Yes, I know, it’s really cheap and convenient when you are running from one bus to the other. And if you want sub-par falafel, then way to go, champ. But nothing will change the fact that what you’ve just bought is nothing more than bus station falafel. The same rule applies to overly touristy areas, because Israelis know that Americans don’t know good falafel. The second: If there’s a line, you’ve found a good spot. Falafel in a pita literally takes under 30 seconds to prepare and pay for, meaning lots of people can get in and out in a miniscule amount of time. So if you’ve found a spot so packed with people that a line has formed, you know it’ll be good. The third: Never choose soggy chips. All falafel stands offer chips (French fries in Israel) to top off the sandwich. If those chips are cold, not crispy and sad-looking, your falafel is going to suck. The fourth: Always judge a falafel stand by its pita. Warm, fresh pita usually equals hot, crispy falafel. If they can tell you the bakery where they buy their pita, even better. Alright. So that said, back to the point at hand: the greatest falafel stand in the world. It’s called “Melekh ha’falafel v’fool,” or, as per the confusingly French translation on their sign, “Le roi de falafel et foul,” or, in English, “The King of Falafel and Foul” (foul means fava beans). Now, this isn’t an uncommon name for a falafel stand in Israel. Everyone declares himself the king of fast food here. Down the street from me in Arad, there’s a King of Shawarma — and that place is decent, but not worth more than a ‘prince’ level of royalty, if that. This tiny spot in Beersheba, on the other hand, should be dubbed “Godhead of Falafel,” or “Emperor of Falafel” or even just “Eat Here and You Will Never Be Satisfied With Other Falafel for the Rest of Your Life,” which is exactly what’s happened to me. I’m ruined when I’m not in Beersheba.

You see, on my many trips down south in the past few months, I usually have a small bus layover in Beersheba. The city’s shuk (open air market) is across the street from the bus station, and filled with fruit and eggs and nargilah bars and coffee shops and things that generally smell and look amazing. During one of these walk-throughs a few months ago, I stumbled upon The King. Amongst all the busy shawarma shops hidden near the shuk’s “Old Drunk Russian Men Playing Cards and Spitting” alley, The King was swarmed with people. I was immediately interested. The King occupies two shuk storefronts filled with tables, all full, all the time. The falafel-making operation itself is tiny — one old, Jewish husband running between tables and to the backroom to get more vegetables, or pita, or hummus, and basically serving every need of his wife, who stands inside a small, boxy stand filling pitas utterly to the brim with falafel, salat, hazilim (eggplant), tahina, harif (spicy sauce) and chips. She does this like it is her one and only purpose in life, taking orders shouted by tiny Arab women and rude Israeli dudes and, only seconds later, producing the world’s greatest falafel. And she does it all with a smile. Unless you piss her off, then she does it with an intensely terrifying scowl. To her left, her son stands in front of a deep-fryer creating giant falafel balls and intensely crispy chips, all while listening to music on his iPod and generally not paying attention to anything except his task at hand, which he does unceasingly for hours at a time. Three people serving hundreds. One of the most efficient business models I’ve ever seen.

But what of the actual food? Why is it so good? Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way: the salat is fresh and crisp and the portions are generous. The pita is fresh and warm. The tahina is perfectly lemony, and doled out more than drizzled on. But the two obvious kickers: the falafel and the chips. These falafel balls are literally twice the size of normal falafel, and always piping hot and as crunchy as a potato chip. Because of The King’s high traffic, and the fact that sonny boy only makes three dozen or so at a time, no matter your place in line, you will always get falafel that was made no more than three minutes ago. And the chips. Oh, sweet, sweet Lord in heaven, the chips. Instead of rectangular French fry-like chips, these are huge potato slices, dipped in batter and deep-fried — and, again, never more than two or three minutes old. The whole thing costs 12 shekels, or just over three dollars.

If I could live the rest of my life without any worries of obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes complications or self-respect, I would eat at this stand every single day. My highest streak so far is two in a week, and that’s just pathetic. So, next time you are waiting for a bus in Beersheba, skip the 10 shekel bus station falafel. Cross the street, find The King and buy two, then send one to me.

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