(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem / The Jerusalem Post)
Ovadia Ched died recently. Most residents of southern Jerusalem have felt his
impact – even if they never met the man himself – in their stomachs. Ched was
the owner of the eponymous felafel stand that has stood on Bethlehem Road in
Baka for nearly 40 years.
Ched was 82 when he died after a long ill-
ness. He had already turned over the keys of Felafel Ovadia to his son, Doron,
12 years ago. Doron and I are old buddies of a sort – my friend, Bob, and I have
been going out to eat felafel at his establishment nearly every week for some
seven years now. By my count, that’s around NIS 7,000 worth of fried chickpeas
for each of us, not including drinks. We always get our felafel in a fresh laffa
– an Iraqi flat bread that’s rolled into what would be called a “wrap” overseas
– never in just a plain pita.Doron shared with me some of his father’s
history. Ovadia Ched (or “Ovad,” as he was called) was born in Baghdad and
arrived in Israel in the early 1950s at the age of 17. He was immediately
drafted into the nascent IDF, where he learned Hebrew in a hurry. He fought in
the Suez Campaign of 1956. Outside the army, he worked as a shoemaker, a trade
he’d learned from his father.
Ovad married and had three sons and a
daughter. They initially lived in the Beit Hakerem area but quickly moved to
Rivka Street in Baka, which was then pretty much a drug- and crime-infested slum
– a far cry from the upscale neighborhood it is today.
Ovad shifted from
shoes to salads in 1974 when he opened his felafel stand in the same location it
is today, between a dry cleaner and a retirement home and across the street from
the much more recent American Pie pizza parlor.
In the early days, it was
a pretty laid- back operation. “He’d only be open from about 11 a.m until 4
p.m.,” his son says.
The focus then was on the felafel balls; there were
few toppings and not even any fries. Doron says he added condiments later on, in
particular his famous garlic sauce, which has resulted in lines down the street
for all the years I’ve been eating there, and making it, after extensive felafel
tasting around the country, Israel’s best in my gastronomic opinion.
one thing that remains the same is the recipe for the felafel balls themselves.
In a way, every time we take a bite at Felafel Ova- dia, we’re honoring the
Doron was in the printing business before taking over
from his dad in 2000, a few years before Bob and I began our Wednesday lunch
ritual. He’s there most days, although he darts out to the yeshiva on Shimon
Street when business is slow. We try to coordinate it so that Doron is on the
premises to personally prepare our laffot. After coming for so long, we don’t
even have to explain our preferences: I like tehina on top, Bob prefers amba (a
tangy mango pickle sauce). Insider tips: skip the French fries and get two extra
felafel balls. Don’t be afraid to let someone else go ahead of you – balls fresh
out of the oil are worth the wait. And go easy on the hot sauce; it’s really hot
(Doron makes it him- self every morning).
These days, Felafel Ovadia is
open until 8 p.m. and midday on Fridays. Service remains relaxed – there’s no
room for more than two guys (or gals – every once in a while Doron’s wife
pitches in) working side by side, and expanding the opera- tion to a second pot
of oil, for example, is not in the cards.
Don’t bother trying to call for
directions – there’s no phone. No website, GPS, cred- it card swiper, napkins or
bath- room, either. Just really incred- ible food, focused on the basics
(there’s a skillet of shak- shuka out front, but forget about shwarma or any
other extensions to muddy the mes- sage). You can snag a CD with kabbalistic
blessings (it’s free for the taking, though it’s nice to drop in a little
something in return). Deposit your Coke can and Doron donates the redemption
fees to charity.
Felafel in a laffa will set you back NIS
Ovadia is survived by his wife, four children, 14 grand- children and
three great-grand- children. Remarkably, they all still live in Jerusalem.
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