Habibi, the falafel and shawarma place on Winterfeldtplatz, is a neighborhood fixture that's been around for decades (some people say it was the first place in Berlin to sell shawarma). It's gotten nicer as the years have passed; I remember a distinctly shabbier room when I used to come here in high school with my friends over 15 years ago. It's still a hole in the wall with four bar tables and a smattering of bar stools, but now there are customer toilets, a shiny new vitrine, and elegantly laid-out platters of roasted vegetables, swirls of hummus, and tomatoes and cucumbers and onions, cut just so.
I don't think I've ever been to Habibi when I didn't have to stand in line, and today was no exception. A whole string of people in front of me ordered sandwiches, but I needed something more steadying than a tahini-soaked pita. So I ordered a "pastille" plate, a thin phyllo cigar of herbed spinach mixed with feta cheese served with tabbouleh (though the guy called it Petersiliensalat, which made me smile) and some cucumber and tomato wedges. The pastille was wrapped in clingfilm, which he unwrapped before tossing it into hot oil. A few minutes later, it was on my plate, crisp and hot and not greasy in the least.
How do they do that?
Instead of tahini, I asked for a dollop of hot sauce, which was fantastic. Sharp and tomatoey, it left my mouth glowing. The crunch of the freshly fried phyllo against the soft interior was wonderful. The tabbouleh had barely any bulgur in it, but I liked it like that, bright and lemony. I wiped my plate clean.