The Curse of Bob

by Brian on May 15, 2008

in Only in Israel

Ever since I started going out for my falafel with my friend Bob, there’s been one unspoken rule: neither of us will patronize Falafel Oved without the other. It’s OK to go to another falafel stand, just not the one where we have our weekly date.

That hasn’t been hard to follow. In general, I’m not in the mood for more than one filling falafel a week anyway, despite my abiding appreciation of Falafel Oved’s compelling concoction of fresh onions, garlic sauce and spicy schug all wrapped up in a warm fresh laffa and served with fresh balls of deep fried humous (I’m getting hungry just writing this).

But when my wife Jody recently needed a night off from cooking, we started to look at our options. We could go out to eat, but that was expensive. For a family of five, it’s hard to get away for under 300 shekels even if we forego the soft drinks and appetizers.

Take out food can get pricy too. Our favorite, the Chinese noodles with beef and chicken from Soya, tops out at over 100 shekels. Even pizza comes in at 75 shekels depending on the topping.

The cheapest alternative by far is falafel. At 11 shekels for a pita sandwich, we can feed our whole family for 55 shekels. That’s how Thursday evening got to be Falafel Night in the Blum household.

But where to go? Falafel Oved was off limits. We tried Falafel Bis which I wrote about before. Despite the multi-colored flavored falafel balls and fried garlic sticks, the overall experience is still mostly muddled and not on the same level as Falafel Oved.

Next we tried Melech Ha Falafel (the Falafel King) – the balls were pretty tasty but the establishment was a car schlep away and the pita sandwiches topped out at an expensive 17 shekels each.

After trying the competition and assiduously avoiding Oved, we finally gave in. Why not go for the best? Jody sent me up the street to break with tradition.

It was after 6:00 PM when I got to Falafel Oved. There were several people already ahead of me in the line. A solitary worker was trying to man several stations – making up sandwiches, refilling the salad and pickle bins, and boiling up fresh falafel balls, all the while cradling an endlessly ringing cell phone under his ear. He also didn’t seem in much of a rush to serve.

The line behind me grew. The man at the front of the counter had ordered 5 pitas for his work. The next man did the same. A woman who I hadn’t noticed suddenly appeared and announced that she was “after him,” a typical Israeli behavior that still drives me nuts. How is it fair that I have to wait in line while the other person simply saves her place and then is free to run errands, confident that the system will not exile her to the end of the line when she returns?

Another woman tried to cut in front of me. “There’s a line,” I hissed at her. Nevertheless, when I had nearly reached the front, the falafel man served her before me. Was that another unspoken Israeli rule? Ladies first? If so, I never heard of it.

The falafel man continued to move at a snail’s pace. By this time I had been standing in the line nearly 45 minutes.

“I’ve never waited so long for falafel,” a man behind me complained. I nodded in silent agreement. This falafel had better be good.

Finally it was my turn. I looked down at the counter. The pita bag was empty. “More’s on the way,” the falafel man assured me. “I just don’t know when.”

My frustration reaching a crescendo, I turned and stormed away, falafel-less and miserable. As I began the short walk home, I called Jody and told her of my experience.

“Maybe you can buy bagels?” she suggested.

“No,” I practically yelled into the phone. “I’m done standing in lines. I’m coming home.”

And then I hung up on her. I truly didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at our apartment. A room full of grumpy children? A quick omelet cooked up in the microwave? Fortunately, 17-year-old Amir was more resourceful than I’d given my family credit for. What do you want on your pizza, he asked in a cheery voice.

The pizza was fine, good even. I had onions and Bulgarian cheese. No one went hungry. But I couldn’t help feeling that I had just been subjected to the Curse of Bob. We had agreed never to eat at Falafel Oved without the other. The one time I try, they run out of pitas before I can fill up for my family. Never again, I vowed.

The next week, Bob and I went out for our weekly pilgrimage to the god of fried humous. The falafel was great as always. On the following Thursday, we bought fried chicken from the nearby “Shnitzi.”

I haven’t gone back to Falafel Oved without Bob. I doubt that I ever will. When it comes to falafel and friends, loyalty comes first.

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