The falafel has evolved from being a local treat in the Middle East to a vegetarian favourite all over the globe. As ancient as man himself, it should be made with great care — as with all true delights — but it has not been treated well in Sweden. Mange Schmidt wants to show how a falafel should really taste. And he wants to serve it with Pilsner Urquell — because distant craft cultures don’t clash, they match.
The falafel is the ultimate street food in these vegan days. From Karachi to Casablanca, it’s the popular filler with an unknown story. Nobody is really sure where the first falafel appeared. Is it a delicacy from ancient Egypt, refined by the Copts – some believe it was Tutankhamun’s favourite snack – or should we think of it as Arabic?
In Israel, the falafel plays an iconic role in Jewish cuisine and it’s widely considered to be the national dish of the country. Maybe Abraham himself enjoyed stuffing his pita bread with this ancient doughnut. As with almost everything else in the Middle East, the origin of the deep-fried chickpea patty is a delicate matter. The heated falafel debate has actually turned into a veritable food fight, much like the great hummus war that has been going on between Israel and Lebanon for the past few years. But let’s leave all that behind. The falafel is no longer just
a Middle Eastern treat. It has, for a while now, gone west.
Mange Schmidt comes from the world of music, but has a deep-rooted love for true street food, prepared the way it should be. Together with Jimmy Blomberg Dali and Jason Diakité, an old friend from the music scene better known as Timbuktu, he wanted to bring the true falafel to Stockholm. “Up here the falafel culture has been terrible,” says Schmidt. “Frozen, premade doughs, with no fresh herbs or passion in the recipe – something very different from what I learnt to love when down in Malmö. So we decided we wanted to make fresh falafels every morning and bring them out to the people! Let them know how a crafted Middle East treasure really tastes.”
Sweden’s third-largest city, Malmö is the country’s true falafel capital – the place where the best examples are to be found in the nation, something that’s probably linked to the number of people moving there from falafel-loving parts of the world. Schmidt and Diakité – who has been a fixture on the Malmö hip-hop scene and even written a song called En High 5 & 1 Falafel – decided that bringing good falafels to Stockholm would be their mission. And it didn’t take long to come up with a name for their restaurant: Malmø.
The main recipe used at Malmø is a family treasure from a Palestinian woman who lives in Malmö, but anyone is free to use it, as it has already been published in Schmidt’s book, Street Food: An Introduction, which he wrote with Jonas Cramby. In this cookbook, every recipe requires you to make the meal from scratch, something that’s very important to the energetic entrepreneur and rapper, and a practice that brings him joy after a long day in the kitchen. Yes, the owners love to cook at the restaurant.
“We start from scratch every morning,” Schmidt says. “Fresh organic herbs and nothing but the best. Only our own special sauces and pickles. I also we want to emphasise that a falafel is even better with a good beer, such as Pilsner Urquell – a pilsner whose creators share our passion for craft. It is actually a perfect combination, though not widely explored in the Middle East, for obvious reasons. But let’s change that over here. Burgers and beer… I say falafel and pilsner!”
To mark their first year of falafel action, on March 1 they will be hosting a grand event with Pilsner Urquell at their Stockholm restaurant as part of Brewers and Makers, Pilsner Urquell’s ongoing celebration of craftsmanship throughout Europe. The finest fresh Pilsner Urquell – delivered directly from the brewery in the Czech Republic – will be served together with fancy falafels: a feast to celebrate how a true delight from one part of the world so perfectly matches another from a totally different culture. It is a fact that the falafel has evolved from being an esoteric nibble in the alleyways of the Levant to become the vegan jewel of modern street food.
Malmø, K25, Kungsgatan 25, Stockholm
Words by Alfredo L Jones
Photography (MALMØ) by Pejman Biroun Vand
Special thanks to Pilsner Urquell