Gadi Katz has a humble solution to the snack-time dilemma.
You are probably familiar with the problem.
It’s mid-afternoon, hours away from dinner, and your stomach’s snarling.
Fast food beckons, but you try to ignore its siren song. You’ve already exceeded your french fry quota for the week.
But the healthy options don’t entice. Celery sticks are as appealing as chewing cardboard.
His suggestion? Try a falafel.
Sure, it’s deep-fried, so hardly the healthiest option.
But the spicy chickpea nuggets he serves at Whitehorse’s Fireweed Community Market every Thursday are, at least, made from scratch, with no additives.
In his words: “It’s junk food. But it’s pretty good for junk good.”
Consider it a compromise between KFC and carrot sticks.
Autumn has arrived, signaling the end of the market where Katz sets up his falafel stand.
So Katz is moving indoors, with several other vendors, to the new Fireweed Market Kitchen, which opened this week.
He will sell falafels in the kitchen each Wednesday, from noon until 6 p.m. As usual, he will sell a falafel, laden with toppings, for $7.
Katz, 44, has been a fixture at the market for several years now. He is easily recognizable by the red kipa, a traditional Jewish hat, that he wears not out of piety — he is not orthodox — but to comply food safety rules.
“I hate hats,” he says.
But he concedes the hat helps attract customers. It makes him stand out.
“This is an advertisement,” he says.
Making the perfect falafel is not easy.
The deep fryer is a fickle tool outdoors, where the temperature, and wind, are in flux.
Too hot, and the falafel doesn’t cook through. Too cold, and the chickpea balls become soggy with grease.
“To get them really nice you need to get it right on,” Katz says.
Falafel is a popular fast food across the Middle East. Katz grew up in a small Israeli village outside the city of Haifa.
His father was a freighter captain. The job took father and son around the world, including, several times, to Halifax.
At 24, Katz decided to travel across Northern Canada. Five years later he settled in Tsiigehtchic. Several years ago he moved to Whitehorse.
He describes his arrival here, and the establishment of his falafel stand, as all a matter of chance.
“It was all accidental,” he says.
Katz works night shifts as a janitor at the college. He is also a photographer and painter.
He begins making falafel by taking dried chickpeas and allowing them to soak overnight. It’s important to let them soak for 14 hours, he says, otherwise the falafel is liable to make customers gassy.
He grinds the chickpeas and mixes them with other ingredients: cumin, coriander, and other spices he won’t disclose.
He adds potato to the mix. The starch helps hold the mixture together.
Once fried, the falafel balls are served on a pita bread with cucumber, tomato, and a dollop of tahini, or sesami oil.
He lets customers add other toppings themselves, which include lettuce, diced garlic, olives and onion.
He wishes he could also offer pickled turnip, which is a staple at most falafel stands, but he can’t get orders of it in town.
Many potential customers who approach his stand have never heard of falafel.
He lets them try a sample for free.
“Most people like it when they try it,” he says. “Some people not. But most people.”
He has loyal customers who speak of “going falafelling” on Thursdays.
“One guy comes twice a day,” he says.
He has been unable to sway some carnivores, who, upon hearing his offerings contain nothing but vegetables, have refused to have a bite.
Others mistakenly have slathered falafel with ketchup and mustard in previous years, when Katz also sold smokies.
On a busy day, Katz says he probably sells 100 falafels. But, at the outdoor market, business is subject to good weather.
“One day you can make nothing. Another day you can make lots of money,” he says.
But money’s clearly not his biggest concern.
Even as a lineup continues to grow at his stand during a recent Thursday evening, Katz pauses to chat with each customer.
Fast food or not, Katz is often in no hurry. Meeting people, he says, it part of what makes selling falafels worthwhile.
“I really enjoy it. Otherwise, I’d work full time at the college, cleaning.”