The Jew And The Carrot

Chubby Chickpea: Boston's First Kosher Food Truck

By Eitan Kensky

  • Print
  • Share Share
thinkstock

It’s forty degrees and the wind is blowing, but I’m sitting on an even colder marble slab outside the Christian Science Plaza in Boston so that Avi Shemtov can keep a metaphorical eye on his food truck, The Chubby Chickpea. The Chubby Chickpea went kosher about a month ago, but only a small certificate in the bottom right corner of the window would let you know. Still, it is Boston’s first kosher food truck.

The Chubby Chickpea calls its cuisine, “Sephardic Street Fare,” but the term is more poetic than precise. This is classic Israeli road food: hummus, falafel, babaganoush, and grilled meats wrapped in laffa. My dining companions agree that the chicken is juicy and well-prepared. Our side of falafel is tasty, and the hummus substantial. It’s less a spread than a dish of its own. I prefer my shawarma with more aggressive seasoning and I wish the laffa were better. But the food is unquestionably good, and the portions are generous without being excessive.

The food is even better at the Chubby Chickpea restaurant. The night before, my wife and I took the highway 30 miles to Canton, MA to try the restaurant, and I’m glad we did. The menu there is different, more interesting and more developed. My beef kabob had a beautiful herbal flavor, and the roasted eggplant served alongside it was the best thing I had either meal (It helped that pieces of brisket somehow found their way onto my plate). There were other restaurant-only items I wanted to try, like braised short ribs and panko-crusted schnitzel (sold out), though by now the short ribs are probably off the menu. The food truck menu is static; it’s designed to be simple, repeatable middle eastern food. The restaurant menu changes constantly; it’s where Shemtov tries new things. Right now he’s planning a pareve cannoli made with a banana pudding cream. It’s where he tries to grow as a chef.

Like, I imagine, a fair number of Forward readers, I eat meat at only at kosher restaurants, but eat fish and dairy anywhere. Too often the experience of eating at a kosher restaurant is disappointing. We accept things from kosher restaurants that we wouldn’t accept from any other restaurant. (I’m reminded of the old Jewish joke: The food is terrible. And such small portions!)

The Chubby Chickpea feels like any other food truck — and the Canton, MA restaurant more-or-less feels like any other restaurant — because Shemtov’s goal was always to start a restaurant, not to start a kosher restaurant. It’s a minor semantic distinction, but an important one. Shemtov knows the industry. His father owned several restaurants in the Boston area and he has years of cooking experience under his belt. Moreover, The Chubby Chickpea opened as a non-kosher restaurant three-and-a-half years ago. In that time, Shemtov learned how to run a business. He learned the difference between the theoretical price a restaurant pays for food, and the actual price after “shrinkage.” (5 pounds of chicken, for example, may only be 4 pounds after preparation and cooking.) He also knows how to spread his costs around so that going kosher does not lead to dramatically higher prices. It bears repeating: The Chubby Chickpea is one of the most affordable kosher (meat) meals I’ve had.

Shemtov decided to make the truck kosher because of his attachment to the Jewish community. He grew up keeping kosher, and many of his friends and family still do. You understand this impulse to serve his community more implicitly at the restaurant than at the food truck. The night I was there, the restaurant’s patrons were all visibly Orthodox. None of them would have gone to the old Chubby Chickpea. And it’s doubtful that any of them regularly go for lunch at the food truck. I overheard one horror story about travel that opened with taking the commuter rail to South Station. This is a spot for locals.

And even though I’m not one of them and the food truck is geographically much closer to me, I’m more likely to go back to the restaurant before I go back to the food truck. As we leave, Shemtov tells me that he wants to make a kosher version of bolognese. He goes through the different obstacles — the kind of meat, the cream — and starts listing possible substitutions. To be honest, the substitutions don’t sound like they’ll work, but I want to try whatever Shemtov comes up with. The food is good enough that you want to see him try new things and new flavors. You want to see how far he can go.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: the chubby chickpea

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.