For all of its culinary merits, Tokyo is woefully lacking in places to gorge on everyone’s favorite chickpea-based delights: hummus and falafel. You can dine in a tree house, enjoy a meal in the underworld or among psychedelic robots, but the age-old recipes of the Middle East are a step too far, apparently.
At least, that’s what I thought until stumbling upon this inconspicuous Shibuya falafel joint: Kuumba du Falafel.
Wandering the badlands west of Shibuya in the early summer humidity, this joint emerged like a cruel mirage, a trick of the mind induced by months of aching chickpea withdrawal. Surely, I told myself, it could not be? But, gloriously, it was. Beside a concrete expressway, among a maze of congested roads and on-ramps, a falafel joint the like of which I’d been praying for.
From the outside, it didn’t look like much. As far as I could see, there wasn’t even a sign to indicate what magic was being conjured up within. It must have been a survival instinct that led me there, a natural nose for hummus programmed into my DNA, I reasoned. Whatever it was, no army on earth could stop me passing through those doors.
The first thing you notice about Kuumba du Falafel is that it’s small, more like a cafe than a restaurant in design. There’s a counter, able to sit maybe seven people, one small table for three in the corner and that’s about it. The kitchen is open, meaning you can watch everything be prepared by the lone chef and chat away to the guy behind the counter if need an outlet for your excitement. We arrived at roughly 7 pm on a Friday evening and the place was very quiet, mercifully meaning you probably won’t have to wait to be served.
On to the food.
The procedure here is to order and pay at the counter straight away. You’ll be presented with a menu and the affable guy behind the counter will even talk you through it, in English if necessary.
You’ve got the choice of a falafel sandwich, either half (half a pita bread) or full size (a full pita bread), which comes with hummus, salad, tahini sauce and a medley of grilled vegetables on top of the falafel itself. My companion, who, tangentially, had never tried falafel before, went for the full-size option, having been assured that it was more than enough for one.
Your next option is the falafel plate—my choice. This is essentially a sandwich that has been deconstructed, but with even more (a lot more, in fact) of each constituent part. Doubting the extent of my cravings, the guy behind the counter even tried to talk me out of it. I boldly persisted.
These are the two menu big-hitters, but there’s also the option of a salad pita or plate, which, I’m told, is just the same but without the falafel. You can also order up extra hummus, pita bread and lentil soup. At lunch time, they run a deal where you get a half-size falafel sandwich with lentil soup for a very reasonable 1,000 yen.
After no more than 10 minutes, time used to try and explain exactly what chickpeas are to my clueless friend, out came the falafel sandwich. As you can see, the thing was fit to burst, clearly prepared by some skilled hands.
Photograph the famous Shibuya scramble crossing, wander around the curious and quirky love hotel hill, visit Yoyogi park and Meiji shrine...
Then came the falafel plate.
As someone who has tried a lot of falafel, I will go on record as saying this stuff was extremely good. There’s a danger, if it’s not totally fresh or it has an imbalance of ingredients, that falafel can be dry and bland, like eating cardboard. In this case, it was light, not overly oily and very flavorsome. The hummus also gets the seal of approval: creamy with a slight tang and moreish as ever. The pita and the salad were both extremely fresh and the grilled vegetables a nice addition to the mix. My friend, though totally unable to describe the taste, concurred in full.
The pita sandwich proved to be structurally sound, not falling apart as many weaker sandwiches would. And, as told, the sandwich was more than enough for one person, with the full-sized plate causing me to silently doubt my earlier bravado. Yet, I’d recommend it to those suffering from acute falafel withdrawal regardless. In all, thankfully, Kuumba du Falafel did not disappoint.
Getting there is slightly tricky, though head west from Shibuya Station and you should find it in no more than 15 minutes. Alternatively, it’s roughly five minutes from Shinsen Station.
In our pilot episode, we're joined by Alvin Cheung of ABC Coffee, Hapnick, and Tokyo Keyboards