Yesterday I had an opportunity to follow a photographer on a photo assignment about the Jewish quarter in Belleville. I haven’t explored this area much and don’t know a whole lot about it, except that this is where Edith Piaf grew up and that Belleville has also been, since the early 20th century, a predominantly Ashkenazi Jewish neighborhood. In the last twenty or thirty years, an influx of immigrants from China and North Africa started to settle in so Chinese markets are often flanked by Halal and Kosher butcher shops along Boulevard de Belleville.

This is where I’m going to do all my food shopping from now on. Homemade tofu? Fresh challah? All on one street. Falafel? You’re in luck.

Frosted windows and all, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Beth Halafa, except from its sign that it served shawarma and falafel. As soon as we walked in, we saw this lady:

Using a pillow as a pizza board, she pats and pulls the dough, flipping it over onto the burner behind her. She makes bread all day and can take a little nap in between. Okay, technically she’s making lafa, which is Iraqi pita bread with no pocket, the size of a tortilla and much denser and fluffier. It’s filled with falafel (or meat, if you like) and of course the obligatory fried eggplant, pickles, cabbage and tomatoes and stuffed into a plastic cup for mess-free munching:

While the falafel itself was hot and perfectly crisp, the lafa itself took first place. I want to wrap everything with a lafa from now on — scrambled eggs, lardons, roasted vegetables, canned tuna — but only the ones made by that woman’s hands.

For falafel, it seems like everyone in Paris goes to L’As du Falafel in the Marais. It’s a pretty good one, but I’m always weary of places that have become a part of the Hype Machine. But really, when there’s someone making fresh pita bread before your very eyes, L’As du Falafel has nothing on this place.

Beth Halafa
68, rue Manin
75019 Paris

Photos: Owen Franken