"If you bite into a falafel and it’s not green, it’s not good," Amin Musa says, as I take my first bite.
Indeed, the insides are a vibrant hue of green. And it takes a moment, before it hits: the intensity of the dill, mixed with the nutty swirl of crushed garbanzo beans.
Falafels were a mainstay of my diet when I lived in the New York City. Mamoun's in East Village was a staple for drunk university students, often drawing long lines out into the streets. While to me, falafels were just deep-fried balls of beans wrapped in pita (rather tasteless to be honest), the point is that it did its job as cheap, filling street food.
Musa’s version is much more complex. You can actually taste the spices, and he breaks into a huge smile when he notices my surprised reaction.
"Everything in there is organic and made from scratch," he says. "It takes so much time. We soak the garbanzo beans and grind the dill from scratch."
It is the dill, he notes, that makes it a Sudanese falafel.
Musa is a man of many countries. Born in Sudan but educated in Dubai, he went to university in Canada and eventually immigrated here to the United States. Yet, although he left Sudan at the young age of five, the food from his motherland has always been an irrevocable part of his identity.
"Sudanese cuisine is a combination of many Middle Eastern influences," he says. "It’s similar to Indian, but more simple. The main spices are cumin, salt, pepper and cloves."
In college, he became hooked on the Food Network and started experimenting with the tastes of his hometown. Eventually, he stumbled the concept of macrobiotic food, which focuses on whole grains, vegetables and beans, and something clicked.
"Macrobiotic cooking is how we originally cooked in our family farms," he says.
And so when he moved to Los Angeles, he spent two months planning and opened his first food venture — a falafel joint by the name of Ihsan’s. It’s a vegan falafel stand that makes its rounds across various farmers’ markets in Los Angeles. Insan is the Arabic word for kindness.
Falafels are his bread and butter and you can get them served on pita bread, in a collard green wrap, or on a plate. They are gently deep-fried and done in a way so that the exterior is crisp but the interior remains soft. The typical accouterments are grated carrots and homemade turnip pickles. For sauces, it’s his spicy peanut dressing, called dakwa in Sudan, that stands out. It is made with creamy peanut butter, Serrano chilies, cilantros and jalapeños.
"The cilantros are my own personal twist," he says. "It’s spicier in Sudan but here I added more peanut butter because people don’t like things too spicy."
Musa hopes to one day open a brick and mortar here in Los Angeles. He says that of all of the places he’s lived, California has been his favorite.
"Coming to the States was a dream. It’s an immigration lottery. You’re lucky if you got it. Everyone would throw a party once you did," he says.
Even with the recent Trump immigration ban, which included Sudan on the list of seven countries that were affected, Musa says he hasn’t felt anything but positivity here in the Southland. In fact, the upside of the controversy is that more people have started frequenting his stand in a show of solidarity.
"People here in Los Angeles are incredibly open, especially when it comes to food," he says. "I love it here."
Ihsan’s Falafel appears at various farmers’ market. Check the website for the schedule. http://www.authenticfalafels.com/