I was cruising through Yelp the other day, and much to my surprise, I discovered a Middle Eastern restaurant two minutes away from my house! How did that happen? Am I that unaware of new food offerings literally in my backyard? Apparently, I’ve been sleeping. I love food from the Middle East so a field trip was in order. My wife was out of town, it was too hot to cook, so off I went. Aladdin Halal Restaurant and Pizzeria, was my destination. It is located in a strip mall that previously housed a pizza joint, whose former occupant was a pizza joint, whose preceding owner was a pizza joint. And on, and on. So a couple of Syrians rent a space with a pizza oven in Berlin Connecticut and decide to cook Middle Eastern. Go figure.
We all know who Aladdin is and pizza, well I won’t even dignify that, but halal? Halal is the Arabic version of kosher. Like kosher, it specifies how the animals are to be slaughtered and what can and cannot be eaten. Yes, there are differences such as it is halal to eat shellfish, but not kosher. Both halal and kosher forbid the eating of pork. Camel meat is halal, but not kosher. Cheeseburgers are halal, sadly they are not kosher. Check this website for a cool take on halal vs. kosher.
Anyway I decide to try two of my favorite foods; Falafel and shawarma. Falafel is a chickpea fritter served in pita bread. Shawarmas are meats that are cooked on a vertical spit and grilled; also served in pita bread. I had my first falafel in college many years ago and my first shawarma in, of all places, Johannesburg, South Africa, again, many years ago. I’ve loved chickpeas ever since I was a kid. I love my mom dearly, but one of the few things that she cooked without ruining was a can of Progresso Minestrone soup. I would always save the chickpeas for last. When I tasted my first falafel, oh man, I was in heaven. I seek it out, any chance I get.
I walk and a few Arabic ladies with traditional head coverings are waiting for their order. That’s a good sign when people native to the culture are eating there. We actually have a mosque in Berlin so there is a sizable Muslim population in the area. I order both a falafel and a chicken shawarma and have a seat. The place was freaking hot, on the hottest day of the year. I had a few other places to go, so I didn’t feel like schlepping home. Note to self, get it to go next time.
After about ten minutes and the loss of few pounds, the food arrives. That is two huge, overstuffed pitas. Oops. I can immediately tell I ordered way too much. Oh well, let’s man up and dig in! I go for the falafel first. The pita was very fresh. The falafel was crunchy on the outside, soft and grainy on the inside. They were nicely spiced with a slight heat at the end. The cool, crisp lettuce, combined with the citrusy tomato and the sour snap of the pickles was a nice contrast to the falafel. The tahina was a little too thin for my taste though. I like a thicker tahina with a more sesame punch.
I crush the falafel and tear into the shawarma. This is gigantic. It is stuffed with grilled chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and red onions. The chicken is tender and flavorful. The grilling adds a nice char to the chicken. They really put a lot of chicken in the pita. I was very surprised at the amount. The sauce is very flavorful, but I can’t get a handle on it. I ask the server what it is. He explains that it is Arabic mayonnaise (which he says is different from American) combined with tahina. Okay then. I’m groaning at this point but I manage to finish the shawarma. It was awesome.
There is a ton of stuff on the menu such as pizzas, grinders, pastas and soups. I go to Pepe’s and Da Vinci’s for pizza. As for pasta; I eat it at home. Their Middle Eastern food is the real deal and I can’t wait to go back.