Idaho: Home of the Country’s Best Falafel

And Top Chef succotash

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Episode 193: Succotash with Kelsey Barnard Clark

Top Chef winner Kelsey Barnard Clark dishes about why she chose the sous chefs she chose in the Top Chef finale. And everyone's favorite lima bean classic!

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Idaho: Home of the Country’s Best Falafel

By Cassandra Brooklyn

When I began traveling to the Middle East for work four years ago, I became spoiled by regular access to fantastic falafel. When I’d return home to New York City, I'd rush to whichever hot new Middle Eastern restaurant, only to find the falafel a disappointing distant cousin of the crispy mashed chickpeas I ate every day, week after week, in Jordan, Israel, and Palestine.

Given my discouragement with New York’s falafel scene (which is one of the best in the country, I might add), when I arrived in Boise this summer, I looked forward to trying their increasingly talked-about food scene but had extremely low expectations for the falafel. That was wrong of me. Thanks to the city’s refugee-settlement initiative and small-business support programs, many people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Bosnia, and Myanmar have settled their families here.

After finishing a degree in hospitality in Baghdad in 1997, Salam Bunyan spent four years cooking in hotel restaurants in North Africa and the Middle East. In 2001, he began cooking for the international inspection team tapped to search for biological weapons in Iraq. In 2003, the Army recruited him to cook for U.S. troops in Baghdad - because he had already undergone security clearance and because his food was so popular.

Salam and his wife, Aseel, also an Iraqi refugee, came to Boise in 2008; in 2014 they opened a Mediterranean food stall in the International Market. After the market burned down as a result of a kitchen fire in 2015, the couple pivoted to a stand-alone eatery, which they ran for 3.5 years before eventually opening Tarbush Kitchen in 2019.

At their restaurant in Boise’s Central Bench neighborhood, the couple has consistently tried out different Iraqi but, according to Salam, the most popular items are two old standbys, chicken shawarma and Iraqi kebob. Everything I tried was fantastic, but it was the falafel that blew me away. Perfectly crisp and rich and certainly the best I've had since my last trip to the Middle East, pre-pandemic.

Idaho’s license plate may read “Famous Potatoes” but I believe that in Boise, falafel is king. 🧆

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