Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Egyptian falafel dudes

As part of the intensive Arabic language study abroad, I have to have 10-12 hours of Arabic speaking time every week. Lots of BYU students just go find random people on campus and start talking. Some have host families that they can talk with all the time. Others, like me, have a harder time getting this requirement done. Fortunately, I've had a great source of Arabic speaking practice: a falafel restaurant across the street from the University of Jordan.

It all started during my first week here. It was lunchtime, I was hungry, and so I set out to find someplace to eat other than the snack stands in front of the UJ. I went across the street to where all the restaurants are and found an alley in between Pizza Hut and Popeye's Fried Chicken (good old globalization). At the back of the alley I saw a food establishment-looking place. While I stared at it, a big white haired man yelled at me in English, asking if I wanted falafel. I said yes and walked over.

When I got over to him, he introduced himself as Franco - hardly an Arabc name - from Egypt. After talking for a while, I discovered that he owned a pizzeria in Milan for 8 years and spoke some Italian. So, we hit it off.

While we were talking, a younger, skinnier Egyptian worker came out, and introduced himself as Marco (he overheard the Italy conversation). I ordered my falafel sandwich (hummus, falafel, cucumbers, tomatoes, and french fries all in a warm, soft, pita bread) and left, not really thinking to go back, for some dumb reason.

I didn't really go back until Jason arrived a couple weeks later. During our lunch break during his first day of school, I took him to the "Italian/Egyptian falafel place" as I called it. Franco and Marco immediately asked where I had been (and had remembered my name! Wow!). I got a falafel sandwich and ate it happily.

The next day, we returned. While we sat in the back courtyard, Marco (the young guy, whose real name is Rida) came and sat with us and talked to us for an hour, all in Arabic. After, we talked with Franco, Marco, and the 4 other Egyptian workers there for another hour. Thus began our daily lunch break at the Egyptian falafel place.

After a few weeks, public school got out and two kids started working at the restaurant - 17 year old Fadi and his 15 year old younger brother Mohammed. Instead of being Egyptian like most other workers there, they were Palestinian Jordanian. We soon discovered that their dad was the co-owner of the restaurant, with Franco (or Fikri, his real name) being the other owner. During the summer the kids work there, cooking and cleaning and working at the cash register and stuff. We quickly hit it off, and the kids would look forward to our visits.

Almost every day this summer, Jason and I have gone to this restaurant to eat their great food and hang out with the workers, kids, and customers. It's been great for my language skills, and gave me a good perspective into normal Arab life. I can also eat like an Arab, using pita bread as my only utensil (as can Nancy). Since I went every day to buy food as an excuse for talking with them, I had to try foods other than my traditional falafel sandwich. Here are some of the variations:

-Classic Falafel Sandwich, Andrew style (without pickles, cauliflower, or eggplant)
-Falafel Sandwich Kabeer (big falafel sandwich rolled in a large, thin, crepe-like bread)
-Falafel Sandwich on bread
-Foul sandwich (falafel sandwich minus hummus, plus foul)
-Ground beef, tomatoes, and onions (that's exactly what they call it in Arabic too - it's like thick spaghetti sauce that you eat with pita)

After trying the foul (pronounced "fool" - فول), I decided it was probably one of my favorite Arabic foods. So, the Egyptian falafel dudes convinced me to eat like a normal Arab. Most people who eat lunch there sit out in the back, eating hummus, foul, and falafel with pita bread - all from single plates at each table. So, I got a bowl of foul and a bowl of 6 falafel balls and two large, warm, fresh pitas. 'Twas bliss.

Since then, my usual is the foul/falafel/pita thing. Even Nancy is converted. She's come a few times with me. They occasionally give me a few extra falafel balls to take home to Nancy.

They are all great friends with me now. I talk with Marco/Rida about his love life, Mohammed and Fadi about their goals and ambitions, and Franco/Fikri about business. They're already sad about us leaving so soon, as are we! Where will I be able to get such great Arabic conversation and food every day!?

Here are some pictures of the Egyptian/Palestinian falafel dudes. They're great!

I sit in those chairs in the back, behind Franco

One of the other Egyptian workers. He didn't really talk with me until a month into my frequent visits, and he introduced himself way back in the beginning, and when he started talking with me, he already knew my name and everything about me, and assumed I knew the same about him. Unfortunately, I don't know his name. I think it's Mohammed, but I may be wrong. Oops!

Notice the bowl of falafel balls in the corner. Yum! He's talking with his girlfriend who's on a business trip in Turkey (she's Palestinian)

I didn't believe him when he said he was 15. I made him show me his ID. He's really 15. Really, really, short guy. Funny guy too!

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