Everyone loves chickpeas whether they know it or not, and the newly opened Sababa is spreading the love with its pita bar, serving up authentic falafel and hummus dishes "with a twist."
The Middle East-themed restaurant in the student area of town near Heping East Road had its opening party last month and there are already plans to expand the concept to other outlets in Taipei and beyond.
Freshly baked pita is the starting point of the operation and the wheat flatbread made with yeast appears on most of the menu items.
It wraps the crispy, herb and chickpea falafel balls that go with hummus, tahini and chopped salad in the falafel pita. It also goes with the best-selling chicken souvlaki, which is set off by a refreshing yogurt sauce. All pita sandwiches cost NT$88.
The "platas" for NT$158 also have pita slices and include hummus with Moroccan beef and pine nuts; baked chicken, chips and Lebanese salad; and eggplant salads with homemade yogurt cheese or hummus and falafel balls.
Moroccan cigars (NT$58) are a Sababa innovation, wrapping cheddar cheese or beef in a spring roll envelope. Drinks include mint tea, "wobbly pop" and the must-try sangria (NT$88), which is a mix of red and white wines, tropical fruit juice and spices.
"This is the beginning of something special," says owner Greg Walsh, who's from Canada and started the dining bar Citizen Cain four years ago. "Sababa is not just a restaurant, it's a trend, a place to eat, drink and socialize with friends."
Behind the scenes and in the kitchen, business partner and pop musician Tomer Feldman says he makes "the best Middle-Eastern food in town. It's authentic with a twist." The Israeli worked as a chef in New York and becomes lyrical when he talks about converting the humble chickpea into hummus by blending it with his homemade tahini paste made from ground sesame seeds, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice. He brings out a big bowl of the dark paste and insists we try some. It's still frothy fresh and has an intensely rich flavor.
"We have a love and passion for our food that you can taste," Feldman says. "We brought the kitchen to the front of the restaurant, so you can see us making it. There's nothing to hide. We also encourage people to eat with their hands because it makes the experience more sociable."
As for the ambiance, attention to detail and some tasteful touches — such as mosaic lights, Middle Eastern pictures and rugs — make Sababa a pleasant venue to hang out in. The service is efficient and comes with a smile. The prices are hard to beat.