Sort-of Secret: Safta’s Falafel, a new pop-up from Favorites Thai BBQ chef Haan Palcu-Chang
A series that shines a spotlight on the city’s hidden edible gems
The sort-of secret: Safta’s Falafel, a pop-up from Favorites Thai BBQ chef Haan Palcu-Chang
You may have heard of it if: You nabbed a plate during the pop-up’s first run last year
But you probably haven’t tried it because: It’s only offered every two to four weeks
“Good falafel simply has to be hot and fresh,” says chef Haan Palcu-Chang. “If it’s pre-fried and sitting there waiting to be microwaved, it just won’t be as crispy.” So when you pick up an order of Safta’s, you’d be well advised to enjoy it at the nearby picnic tables outside for the full effect: that is, a crispy, steaming, herbaceous bite complete with all the falafel fixings.
Palcu-Chang first started his falafel side hustle last year with his partner (in business and life), Janet Getter. Getter is half Tunisian-Jewish, and Palcu-Chang spent three years in France, where he ate plenty of falafel at Lebanese restaurants—these influences co-mingled to create the unique flavour profile of Safta’s falafels. When the weather got too cold for customers to munch their lunch outside, the couple decided to put the project on hold until this spring.
“The falafel is green and herby thanks to Janet’s grandmother’s recipe—”safta” means grandmother in Hebrew—and the rest comes from my time in France, and from doing a ton of research on YouTube.” Palcu-Chang incorporated hawaij, a Yemeni spice mix heavy on cumin and coriander, giving the falafel a deep bass note to go with its verdant colour.
Then, there are the fixings. Every order includes four hefty falafel balls with a scoop of velvety smooth hummus, which Palcu-Chang says is simply a matter of “cooking the chickpeas like hell and using a lot of tahini.” Tahini comes on the side of the falafels, too, and it’s all perfect for scooping with the platter’s pillowy, freshly baked pita.
There’s an outstanding zhug—a kicky Yemeni hot sauce made with parsley, coriander, garlic, cardamom and Serrano chiles. It’s fresh, herbal, and just spicy enough to set off everything else on the plate. Red cabbage with olive oil and salt is a welcome, gentle foil to the strong flavours around it. There’s also a simple salad of cucumber, tomato and parsley with lemon and olive oil, and small Osem-brand pickles.
Safta’s offers either the aforementioned falafel plate or a sabich plate on a rotating basis. The latter subs deep fried eggplant for the falafel and adds house-made amba (mango) sauce and a creamy, deeply flavourful, six-hour-cooked Sephardic egg.
Palcu-Chang and Getter recently welcomed a baby into their life. That keeps them pretty busy, so they plan to run Safta’s out of Favorites every two to four weeks for the foreseeable future—eventually with the addition of patio seating, fingers crossed. “This has definitely popped off, so we want to see how far we can take it,” says Palcu-Chang. Keep an eye on their Instagram account for the latest.