Antwerp’s Beni Falafel voted ‘best falafel place in the world’

Summary

The inconspicuous restaurant in Antwerp’s Jewish quarter continues the legacy of its original owner, serving fresh and tasty Middle Eastern cuisine

On food and drink in Flanders

Tucked away in a side street in the middle of the Jewish quarter of Antwerp, you’ll find the best falafel in the world outside of Israel. That, at any rate, is the opinion of the foreign delegates of World Bnei Akiva, a Jewish youth movement active in 24 countries.

Asked to rate the quality of their favourite local falafel, respondents from Italy, the Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Mexico, the United States, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere submitted their ratings, and the winner was Beni Falafel.

Falafel is a Middle Eastern dish made of chickpeas and seasonings such as coriander and cumin. It resembles a ball-shaped croquette and is often served with pita bread. 

The restaurant, on Lange Leemstraat, two metro stops from Central Station, is named after Beni Barnatan, an Israeli who came to Antwerp in 1967 to see a girl he’d met when she was on holiday in Israel. He intended to stay two weeks; he’s still there half a century later.

“We started in 1968 on Pelikaanstraat, because that’s where a lot of Jewish people were training to become diamond cutters,” Barnatan (pictured right) explains. “Someone said to me, ‘If you’re going to stay here, you could open a falafel restaurant’. We stayed there for a couple of years and then moved to our current location.”

The restaurant is as unpretentious as the tributes are heartfelt. Formica table tops, paper napkins and a basic menu of falafel, hummus, latkes, soup and warm vegetables in various forms. Beni Falalel has a feel that’s simple, authentic and welcoming. 

Though the restaurant has new owners, not much about it has changed. Harris Malkoc and his mother, who used to work here, took over from Barnatan so he could retire, but this doesn’t prevent him from turning up every day to keep an eye on the restaurant.

“Everything about the restaurant is the same as it was,” Malkoc says. “We’re not planning on changing anything. I’m a big fan.”

The food certainly tastes great. Everything is fresh, including the buns, which are made in-house. The hummus is perfectly seasoned and light; the products are kosher, vegan or vegetarian, and gluten-free. 

And so, is Beni Falafel the best in the world? It very well could be. 

Photo courtesy Beni Falafel