This post was written by Moustafa Elrefaey, Executive Chef & Partner at Zooba Home grown, and the winner of the falafel competition at the London Falafel Festival.
At Zooba we've been working nonstop to perfect our Taamia (Falafel) recipe for the past four years, since we opened our first restaurant in 2012 in Cairo. We've changed our preparation process over five times just to make sure it has the right texture, crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. To achieve this in every piece we decided that every order needs to be prepared fresh on the spot; no Taamia can be pre-prepared or pre-cooked.When we first heard about the 2016 London Falafel Festival, we were very excited to just be invited and have the chance to introduce Egyptian Falafel (Taamia) outside of Egypt.
The invitation to compete in London came at a perfect time, when we were almost considering ourselves crazy for investing so much time in getting our Taamia recipe just right. It was very refreshing to feel that people care about Taamia (Falafel) as much as we do. We knew that the organizers were keen to include Egyptian Falafel as while it is still one of the most popular street foods in Egypt, its origins date back to the Ancient Egyptians who used Fava Beans, as we still do today, to create a locally available fresh nutritious meal. We believe that Falafel actually originated in Egypt and was then adopted across other cultures that make it with chickpeas or a chickpea and other bean combination. Our recipe stays true to the original recipe keeping it fresh with only fava beans as the base adding green herbs and spices but not overshadowing the original taste with too many ingredients.
For the London Festival we decided to offer one of our more unique and creative items, our Taamia with eggplant and spicy pepper filling. We also added a Tahini with hibiscus and beetroot topping which turned out to be a great hit and we'll now bring back to Egypt. The preparation process in London for the Festival was a bit tedious, as we didn't have our kitchen, our ingredients, our team or our machinery. I basically spent two days in my brother's house outside of London before the event preparing everything to make sure all the ingredients were ready to be cooked and served fresh on the day of the event. I think this is what made the win even more valuable for us as we had to be a bit creative and it took quite an effort to pull it together.
To our surprise the festival tickets were sold out and once the tasting started the queue did not end for three hours. The vibe was great, meeting the other participants and getting a taste of their Taamia was insightful and the reaction of the crowd was incredible; some of them were so passionate and kept coming back for more. We were delighted to be voted by participants as the Best Falafel Recipe and win the inaugural London Falafel Festival Cup. The whole event really surpassed our expectations. This was a great experience and hopefully a new opportunity for Zooba!