When You Assume . . .
I had one of the most delicious falafels I’ve ever tasted in Budapest, Hungary. It seemed like fate that we found it. After a long day of wandering up and down the Danube, we needed sustenance. My brother flipped open one of those free city magazines and we saw the ad for it immediately: Hummus Bar. After days and days and days of potatoes, which I love but can only eat for so many meals in a row, I was beginning to hallucinate about meat. My nightmares involved schnitzel, huge phallic sausages, and goulash being thrown at me by old Hungarian women wearing babushkas. Hummus Bar cried out to my vegetarian soul.
At first we missed it. Maybe because the restaurant had only a small chalkboard sitting in front to identify it. Or because the name of the restaurant was mostly wiped off the board. We walked in. A guy and girl, both somewhere in their twenties, dusted themselves off from their seats in the corner, welcomed us, and set to work. The restaurant was otherwise empty.
“What would you like, my friend?” the man, who was now behind the counter, asked. He was wearing a soccer jersey and an eager smile. He wore a gold chain around his neck, his skin dark and sun-kissed.
We ordered two falafels with the works and when we asked if they came with hummus he looked at us as if we were stupid.
“With hummus? Of COURSE it comes with hummus,” he bellowed, his voice thick with an indiscernible accent, while gesturing wildly.
As the young woman began to roll out the falafels from scratch in the small exposed kitchen in the back, our new friend began making our sandwich with so much care, it seemed he was giving birth to his creation. First the hummus was spread evenly and carefully, coating every inch of the pita. Then the lettuce, then the tomato, each placed one by one. Some pickles were delicately placed on top and a sprinkling of cabbage. Then the tahini, dripped evenly over all the toppings. When the woman appeared from the kitchen, fresh falafels in hand, he placed them in the sandwich as delicately as one would place sleeping children in their beds. He continued layering the sandwich until it was about to burst. I sensed that this food was an act of love, a call to his heritage. My mouth watered in anticipation.
“So where are you from? Israel? The Middle East?” I asked.
“No, my friend. I'm Indian. Do I look like an Israeli? You crazy Americans.”