Falafel-making is often a family affair. At least that’s the case for Aida and Sherif Shehata, who spend their weekdays at their home in Sydney’s south soaking fava beans and chickpeas, rolling vine leaves and preparing Egyptian street food with the help of their daughters Natalie and Stephanie. On weekends they deliver to homes in Sydney’s inner suburbs.
Before Covid-19, the Shehatas had been selling their ta’ameya (Egyptian falafel) to punters at the Paddington Markets every Saturday for about five years. But when the pandemic hit and the market closed, they were left with no retail outlet for their cooking. “We can’t not cook,” says Aida, who learned the craft from her mother as a child.
So they spent lockdown building a website, reassessing their menu and figuring out how to get the goods to their patrons. Felfela now delivers to the CBD and the eastern suburbs on Saturdays and the inner west on Sundays, with everything packaged in biodegradable, compostable tubs that can be frozen or put in the oven.
The succinct vegetarian menu is conducive to ordering a bit of everything. The original Egyptian-style falafel is made using fava beans (as opposed to chickpeas, which are used in other Middle Eastern cuisines) and loads of herbs, giving them a notable forest-green interior. There’s also a version stuffed with chilli and kale. Dunk the falafel balls in any of these dips: glossy tahini, smooth hummus, a smoky baba ganoush made from chargrilled eggplant, and ful medames.
Ful is a quintessential Egyptian dish – a humble crowd-pleaser the Shehatas say you see everywhere in Egypt. You can eat it for any meal, but the Shehatas traditionally serve it for breakfast topped with fresh tomato, Spanish onion or eggs. They make it by soaking fava beans and then slow-cooking them with tahini, tomato and spices to form a rich, creamy dip.
Also on the menu: fresh, zesty tabouli; fried eggplant chips; complimentary pickles; cinnamon and rosewater rice pudding; and raw falafel mix you can keep in the freezer for easy dinners – all you need to do is roll the balls and deep-fry them. (Check the “let’s cook” story on Felfela’s Instagram for tips.) None of these dishes will break the bank either – they all range in price from $5 to $15.
And then there’s the unmissable vine leaves. These finger-sized snacks – “not too skinny, not too full”, says Nathalie – are packed with rice, tomato and parsley and covered in a garlicky tomato sauce, with a dollop of yoghurt and herb dip on the side.
“Mum likes [these] a certain way, so that’s a tradition that we’ve kept going through the generations,” explains Natalie. “We all sit around the table to make them together.”
The husband and wife duo first started feeding locals in the ’60s – they’d take raw falafel mix to gatherings of Sydney’s Egyptian community, where they’d fry it on the spot and serve it fresh.
Aida grew up in Cairo, while her husband Sherif hails from northern Egypt. He spent years living and learning to cook in Paris, where the two met. When they came to Sydney they ran restaurant La Petite Maison in Leichardt in the ’80s, where Sherif would hand out snacks to passers-by.
“Because my husband can’t stop himself from feeding people, he would go out onto the street and just give it away,” Aida says laughing. “He’s a big feeder, our dad,” daughter Natalie chimes in.
Felfela delivers to the CBD and the eastern suburbs on Saturdays and the inner west on Sundays. Place your order by midday Thursday.