Falafel is arguably the most popular Middle Eastern food. It is a quintessential staple in all restaurants and most CIEE students’ stomachs. Personally, I would rather snack on bread dipped in hummus, but falafel is equally convenient and inexpensive. There is certainly no shortage of falafel stands in Amman and several are in the running for the title of fan-favorite. Just as vicious as the rivalry between Skyline Chili and Gold Star Chili, the competition between Al-Quds Falafel and Nidal Al-Kalha Restaurant has sparked a great controversy within the CIEE community.
Al-Quds (the Arabic name for the city of Jerusalem) is located on a piece of prime real estate along Rainbow Street, the most popular destination for young Jordanians. Although it boasts the most liberal establishments in Amman, the vast majority of restaurants are known for their traditional cuisine. There are several traditional Jordanian, Armenian, Lebanese restaurants. Al-Quds serves falafel… and only falafel. Anything more would cause their little shack to begin bursting at the seams.
The “restaurant” is only one room containing a workstation for the falafel-makers, a deep fryer, and a register. There are no seats, but plenty of benches outside on the sidewalk! You can choose from a regular falafel sandwich for 50 girsh (half a dinar) or a falafel sandwich served on sesame bread for 70 girsh. The general consensus is that the sesame sandwich is better and I agree
Al-Quds is my falafel of choice, primarily because of the sauce-to-falafel ratio. Falafel by itself is normally dry and tasteless, so an abundance of sauce is necessary to make a good sandwich. However, Quds’ falafel is naturally well spiced, unlike the horrid JustFalafel falafel which tastes like fried cardboard. Combining these tasty falafel balls with Quds’s own tzatziki sauce and crunchy pickles makes this inexpensive sandwich a must-try on Rainbow Street.
On Sunday (the work week starts on Sunday since Friday is the Muslim holy day), I was praising the flavors of Al-Quds when Jenna challenged my opinion. Her favorite falafel place is Nidal Al-Kalha near campus. She visits this restaurant three times a week in between classes and orders a falafel sandwich for lunch. I’ve seen her bring the sandwiches to class and, I’ll admit, they looked delicious. Plus, Nidal’s sandwiches are only 55 girsh and are twice the size as Quds! Jenna promised to take me after class on Tuesday so I could wage a personal taste-off between these establishments.
Nidal’s restaurant is significantly larger than Quds and even features an upstairs restaurant where people can dine-in. For my Amiyya Arabic class, our professor brought us to this restaurant where we ordered hummus, foul, and baba ganoush. We didn’t have the chance to taste the falafel sandwiches, though.
While they were preparing our sandwiches, the falafeltician asked how spicy we wanted ours. Jenna immediately ordered them both with hot sauce, as she said it was better with spice. We carried them back to the CIEE office where we chowed down.
The sandwich was flavorful, but the bread overpowered the rest of the ingredients. I appreciated how they included copious amounts of chopped pickles because the crunch is my favorite part. The spice was a nice addition, especially when it blended with the tzatziki and hummus sauces. However, the overall taste wasn’t as savory as Al-Quds’ falafel. While it may be more affordable, Nidal’s falafel certainly loses the competition in terms of quality. Better luck next time!