I know you’ve been waiting for this. I certainly have been. As soon as I booked our flights almost 3 months ago, I started planning my strategy, my choices, my gameplan. Which falafel would I eat this year at the International Bazaar?
The plans were finalised with the help of a pep talk from Ben: “For one weekend, we just eat. We don’t worry, we don’t count calories, we don’t think… We just eat what we want, when we want.” And with a nod, we were off.
I think the best way to do this is chronologically. After a light breakfast (a banana, a pear, a fruity soy yoghurt), we hit the Sri Lanka stand for our first snack of the day. My friend Zoë had raved about it last year, and small handheld savouries seemed like a good place to start.I chose a vadai and a vegetable samosa. The vadai was quite dense and spongy, but the samosa was lovely and light, delicately flavoured with thin but substantial pastry. The highlight, however, was the spicy mint sauce. Unreal!
Next we moseyed down just two stands (avoiding the Slovakian dancers and their non-vegan food) to Burundi, who were serving up deep-fried plantain with a generous dollop of fresh mango chutney:Shared with Steph while we debated which stand to hit next, this was the perfect end to our gearing up phase, as we started to think about something more substantial.
I was going to need something bready, so after eyeing up the Israeli falafel but remembering I had already tasted it last year, I decided to go for Lebanese. Unfortunately, they were all out of falafel! It made my decision quite easy in the end, as I headed for the Egypt stand. I was very tempted to try their carb-fest of kushari, a pile of rice, pasta, lentils and chickpeas topped with fried onions, but it was time for falafel.It was great, because falafel always is, but the filling was a little sparse, and the bread too fluffy with not enough tahini. Not overly tasty, but satisfying.
Time for something sweet.Originally hitting up the Kenya stand for coffee, it struck me that their strange little dumplings being kept warm and described as made of “coconut milk and cardamom” could quite possibly be vegan. The lady confirmed it (and so did the internet, upon getting home). Please meet the mahamri, my new favourite snack:Fluffy and chewy, barely sweet but pairing perfectly well with coffee thanks to the softness of cardamom, I don’t know why fate had prevented me from encountering these sooner. They reminded me of the cinnamon buns I used to make as a little girl with my mum and a pair of Swedish twins who lived down my road. They need coffee though, or at least something moist and robust.Everyone is this happy at the bazaar. Steph suggested we get some tea from Turkey (ironically placed right next to the Cypriot and Greek stands…?) and I am never one to say no to tea. I love their little glasses too!A little later, we were craving a last snack. I wanted another hand-held crunchy treat, and Ben wanted a curry, so we eyed up various Asian stands before going for something from Pakistan. Their vegetable curries looked lovely, but I had a samosa as by now I was on a mission to test every samosa, and an onion bjahi because, well, look at it.
The bhaji was really tasty, with discernible onion flavour and texture, and a beautiful turmeric colour. I just would have liked it a little crunchier around the outside. The samosa was OK, more boldly spiced than the Sri Lankan counterpart, but more potato-heavy and less flavourful pastry.
And with that, we were done! Having made much more progress than we did last year across the various nations, we started to refine our Day 2 strategy…
Right at the top of my list was falafel from Lebanon. I just love Lebanese flatbread, and I had been denied it which obviously made me want it more. Seeing the huge queue for tickets (they had one of those systems where you queue for tickets first, then queue for your actual food), I leaned over the counter to ask one of the staff members if they actually had falafel this time before I queued for half an hour. She looked over and told me they did, but I’d have to be quick… I don’t know what panic must have come across my face, as she then offered to sell me a ticket then and there so I could go straight to the falafel man! I actually could have hugged her. I was so glad I bothered to get this falafel. It was definitely the best falafel of the bazaar – tangy creamy tahini, crunchy herby falafel, juicy tomato, and chewy flatbread. I wanted another almost immediately.
After descending from the lofty heights of falafel heaven, and snacking on some barberry fruit leather which Steph found me at the Iran stand, my grease-monster growled and demanded samosa. It just made sense to try out the Bangladesh incarnation of one of my favourite savoury treats. This one was on the mild side, somewhere between the Pakistani and Sri Lankan versions. I’m no samosa expert though; give me any kind of deep-fried pastry any day.
A short while later, another Kenyan mahamri was eaten, and it took all my willpower not to double up. It was even better than the one I’d had the previous day, but either I devoured it too fast or I didn’t want to have any evidence, as I didn’t take a photo.
For the last snack of the day, I headed back to Sri Lanka to revisit their vegetable samosa, to help me compare with the ones I had had since my first. They were all out, so it gave me the chance to try something new; a vegetable patty. Offering more filling than the samosa, and a softer pastry, I think these were my favourite.
I also got to taste some Kenyan coffee and some coffee from Guatemala. The latter was possibly my favourite, richer and more intense, but also perhaps a little smoother.
So, not a bad effort this year! Although I definitely honoured all of my cravings (though more cake would not have gone amiss), I do wish I had gotten around to trying the kushari and one of the fresh Israeli bagels. I focussed on small snacks so I could try more things from more national stands more frequently, though plenty of the Asian stands offered various vegetable curries which undoubtedly would have been delicious, if not particularly special.
Unfortunately, although I promised myself not to care about nutrition over the weekend, and stuck to that promise, the amount of starches and simple carbohydrates and grease did get to me a little by the end of each day, leaving me slightly bloated and full yet oddly unsatisfied. Still, I have no regrets and enjoyed every minute of it! Already can’t wait for next year…