Falafel Shop, 40e Qogol Street, Baku, Tel: 0553 121220
Dear NSA or Anyone Else Who Is Monitoring Me,
In the street where I live in Baku as a harmless pacifist expat wife, there is a small kiosk type hole in the wall at No. 40e which sells the most amazing freshly made falafel. As I’m sure you know, Falafel is a small Eastern Mediterranean chickpea and vegetable patty which tastes quite delicious. I am aware that it is a source of great conflict in the Levant with Egypt, Israel, Palestine and Lebanon all claiming to have invented it, way in the past. I don’t really care who came up with the recipe, I just like eating it, and we all know that those guys can’t really agree on anything, anyway. The thing is that the Beiruti gentleman who owns and runs this mini street kitchen is called Jihad. I am a great fan of his, so I hope this then doesn’t make me a Jihadist? He is not the only man with this name, there’s Jihad Helwi, a footballer for Lebanese Premier League football club Nejmeh and Jihad Khodr who is a Brazilian championship surfer, and a whole host of other friendly Jihads. I’m not sure what it does to your personality if your parents call you ‘Holy War’ but rest assured, not every woman called Rose is pretty and smells sweet, nor is every Chastity chaste or every Modesty modest, so I reckon it’s okay for me to visit Jihad from time to time without being compromised.
What is a bit worrying, is that I feel compelled to explain my association with this splendiferous wielder of the deep fat fryer. Could this be paranoia? Since we know that you’ve been listening to ‘Mutti’ Angela Merkel’s phone conversations, I’m just wondering how many restaurant review blogs you poor people have to plough through. And might there be hidden cameras in my apartment too? In which case I can only apologise profusely for not applying fake tan beyond my thighs. Seeing me, middle aged and past my prime, hop around in the altogether must be very traumatising and hopefully involves a hardship bonus for the monitor.
I admit, here and now, Falafel are not without danger. Wikipedia tells me that 100g have 333 calories. Gulp. Still, chick peas aren’t heavy and the individual patty doesn’t weigh a lot, so if one keeps an eye on how many one gobbles up -not easy, I grant you- it’s not too horrendous. And, of course, they come with salad. Salad is always good. Unless it has a Tahini dressing, that is, and Jihad’s does. His MO is to pop the Falafel into some flatbread, add lettuce, chopped tomato, pickled cucumber and lots of fiery pickled green chili peppers and then drizzle the dressing over. Like you, I am a control freak (in my case it’s calorie control), so I persuaded Jihad to give me the different Falafel sandwich components individually. Typically, he is a multi linguist and his English is fluent, so it was easy to make myself clear without using special Azeri code words or gesticulating wildly and attracting unnecessary attention. We paid AZN6 for 12 Falafel pieces plus all the accoutrements. An excellent deal, wouldn’t you agree? They were divinely crispy and tasty and not the tiniest bit greasy. The chopped tomato tasted of sunshine, the pickled cucumber was firm and suitably sour and the pickled green chilli hot enough to blow the roof off your mouth. The combo of all together was just beyond heaven. No virgins were involved, I’m afraid.
Jihad also does hot dogs and burgers, I believe, but it’s definitely the Falafel that has brought his name to our attention. And not just ours, it seems. As we were waiting on tiny scarred fold up chairs in the street outside his kitchen and the smells started wafting out their unmistakable message, the cool cats started gathering, both the two legged type and the furry type, and caused quite a throng. Jihad certainly has his followers!
I am, I will admit, part of his humous cell. (N.B. Humous is not an unusual spelling of Hamas.) Quite unpredictably, and only when he has enough of us Lebanese food fanatics lined up, will he call my phone, quietly breathing “It’s ready” and I make my way as fast as possible to his shop. Then my true nature is exposed, that of a merciless scoffer. Jihad’s freshly made humous is to die for, a pot of 430g at AZN6.
Qogol Street (aka Mardanov Qardaşlari) is a one way street (not that that is ever taken too seriously!) close to Malakan Gardens and Fountain Square and it is never easy to park here, so your best bet might be to preorder by phone and then whizz by his kitchen, virtually on the corner of Alovsat Quliyev Street, just down from Citimart on Samad Verghun, for a quick handover.
I’ve got a few nice holidays booked, so if it’s okay with you, I’d rather give Guantanamo Bay a miss. Besides, the only water I really like is that of a warm bathtub. I’d also be most grateful if, on my next trip to the USA, you refrained from another body search. As I’ve said above, it’s not pretty. Hopefully I’ve reassured you here that the only Jihad I’m interested in is the fabulous Falafel Man on my street in Baku.
With most respectful regards
Fizz of Life aka Kia “Greedy Guts” Armstrong