Israeli chef Einat Admony may not have started America’s love of falafel, but she certainly had a hand in turning Americans into falafel fanatics.
Fifteen years ago, Admony (and partner and husband Stéfan Nafziger) introduced her sizzling take on fried chickpeas to New York City at Taim, a tiny West Village five-seater.
This August, she brought them to Washington, DC’s falafel followers when she opened the city’s first Taim outpost, located in Georgetown. Admony timed the opening well: In September, she, along with renowned Israeli food writer and cookbook author Janna Gur, published Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israeli Home Cooking, a wellspring of history and culture dedicated to Israeli cuisine.
Translated as “tasty” in Hebrew, Taim is where Admony expresses her deep passion for Israeli street food. Taim is her “love child,” as she calls it.
Born and raised outside of Tel Aviv, Admony spent many an afternoon cooking with her family in a diverse neighborhood of Ashkenazi and Mizrahi neighbors. In Shuk, Admony states that “it’s those foods of my multicultural childhood that I crave the most and that I now cook most often” in the US.
After serving in the Israeli army, Admony returned to Israel to attend to her first love of cooking and later graduated from culinary school.
Moving to New York, Admony had the passion and drive to open her own spot after working in several high-end restaurants. So was born Taim in 2005, where the falafel are sacrosanct. Diners notice, however, that the Taim falafel are subtly, though markedly, different.
First, they’re smaller.
“We fry the falafel smaller than others to maximize surface area and increase crispiness,” says Admony. The fritters aren’t dry, however, and the restaurant prides itself on making batches fresh daily, crafting them with a meat grinder.
The falafel balls are also brilliant, fragrant green. Admony is adamant about the freshness of her ingredients and her falafel. “The only thing in our falafel is chickpeas and herbs, including parsley, cilantro and mint,” she said. There are no additives like baking soda, baking powder or breadcrumbs, she continued.
Admony expressed disappointment at the falafel, tahini and hummus she encountered when she first landed in New York. Israeli chefs, she shared, “were almost embarrassed by Israeli food. No one knew what it was. Famous Israeli chefs would cook Italian or French, but they never made Israeli food.”
Today, Israeli food is trendy, thanks in part to Admony’s work. After opening Taim, Admony now runs Israeli-inspired fine-dining restaurants Balaboosta, Kish-Kash and Bar Bolonat, all located in New York.
At Taim, Admony sees the heart of Israeli cuisine, though she admits that when it comes to falafel, the origins are murky. “The Israelis, the Egyptians, the Palestinians, the Indians, the Lebanese—honestly, no one really knows for sure who invented it.”
When she started Taim, Admony sourced exotic ingredients like imported Aleppo peppers, but later pared down the menu to just a few options to maintain a more authentic street-food atmosphere and price point. It’s a focus that she emphasizes in Shuk, a love letter to the vibrant Israeli markets (shuk means “market” in Hebrew).
Today, on the short-but-sweet menu, Taim offers two kinds of falafel (regular and harissa), as well as cauliflower shawarma and a handful of salads and “mezze,” or toppings.
There’s also the famous sabich sandwich. “I’m in a close relationship with that sandwich,” she says. When Taim first served this savory fried-eggplant-and-egg pita, very few people had heard of it, and it was not on many menus in Israel, she said. Now, “I just returned from Miami and it’s everywhere, even there,” she said.
Planting her pita shop in Washington, DC, was not a difficult decision for Admony and her team. “I love DC,” she said, “and I wanted to bring Taim to different markets. DC is diverse, with lots of students, and only makes sense for us.”
Unlike the genre-bending Balaboosta, for example, Taim hews closely to strictly Israeli and Jewish traditions. Given that much of her family keeps kosher, she also reached out to Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who runs DC Kosher with Maharat Ruth Friedman, to ensure that Taim receive certification in order to serve the widest audience possible and maintain that authentic connection to Israel and to Jews in Washington, DC.
Rabbi Herzfeld expressed excitement at the opportunity to kasher Taim and at Admony’s request to have DC Kosher place a mezuzah on Taim’s door. Herzfeld wrote the scroll himself. “We feel blessed to work with them,” Herzfeld said.
“The falafel,” he added, “is a work of art wrapped up in a pita.”
Taim Falafel, 202-560-5419, 1065 Wisconsin Ave, NW, Washington, DC, 11 am–10 pm daily. Kosher.
Photos courtesy of Taim.