If I had a magic lamp with a genie inside, I'd wish for a million wishes. But if wasn't allowed, I'd wish for a cook to forever prepare Mediterranean food whenever I want.
Unfortunately, there is no such lamp in my life. But on the bright side, there is Aladdin, a traditional Egyptian restaurant in Boise with a speedy cook who can whip up falafel, baba ganouj or shawarma for just a couple of bucks pretty much any time I want—within normal business hours.
My first trip to Aladdin's was like a visit to Egypt itself. It was hot. Really hot, and dry, just like the Sahara. The small, dark and ornate restaurant was packed with patrons, and ceiling fans just blew the hot air around. It wasn't wholly unpleasant; it was like a tiny vacation to the Middle East.
While cute kids were running around the restaurant, a bell from the kitchen dinged regularly, indicating that another order was ready for the server to deliver. The food was ready quickly but not delivered quickly as the waitress was frantically trying to refill water glasses, clean tables and ring up credit cards. We saw our prepared food waiting for a while and contemplated getting it ourselves.
When it was finally brought to our table, the food—Tripoli Mezza ($15.75), an appetizer sampler with flatbread, an order of vegetarian grape leaves ($11.95) and chicken shish kabob ($13.95)—was delicious, spiced to perfection and hugely portioned. Then the waitress started shouting at the owner, paralyzing us customers for the remainder of the meal. We boxed up our food and left as quickly as possible (which, frankly, was not that quick).
I chalked up the outburst to the combination of heat and heavy patronage and decided that because the food was so good, I'd head back again, but for lunch this time, instead of dinner.
The same waitress was there, but she was clearly in a better mood. I ordered the appetizer sampler again ($12.75 for lunch), which came out quickly and with piping hot flatbread for sopping up the hummus (chick peas), baba ganouj (eggplant), tabouli salad (parsley and couscous), falafel, ful m dammas (bean spread), and khair b'leban (yogurt, mint, cucumber and lettuce salad).
The baba ganouj spread, though similar to the hummus with a rampant lacing of tahini, was the best of the platter. The wonderfully light falafel, like deep-fried meatballs made of chickpea and spices mash, was a close second.
While mopping up the very last residue of the eggplant, the waitress arrived with my chicken shawarma sandwich ($6.50) and my companion's more traditional lamb shawarma sandwich ($6.50), both with salads on the side. They looked exactly the same, and with a little back-and-forth discussion between us, the waitress and the cook (via a tiny window to the kitchen) we determined the lamb from the chicken before digging in to taste test.
Shawarma is customarily a vertical spit-cooked slab of meat from which the cook shaves thin pieces onto a pita and then adorns. I didn't see a spit, so I don't know if it was shaved; it appeared more pulled than shaved, but it still tasted good.
Both sandwiches were saucy and aromatic and enormous. They were too big, too messy to pick up, so I forked through mine and about one-third of the way through it, I realized I was completely full.
Again, I asked for a box, and the waitress politely obliged and returned with our check. My second trip to Aladdin's was a completely different experience from a mood-and-attitude stance, but the food was consistently and equally enjoyable. Good grub, quick in-and-out on the clock and reasonable prices. It's almost like I did get my wish from a magic lamp. Next on my list of wishes is a flying carpet.
—Jennifer Gelband can show you the world, shining, shimmering, splendid.