New York is truly an amazing city. It is perhaps the most vegan friendly city in the world. Such is the penetration of vegetarian culture that no matter how obsolete and small the eatery seems, you will most likely be able to find a menu item specifically made vegan. Yes, not just vegetarian, but vegan. No more looking through the menu and picking an item and going, "Can I have X but with no pork, prawn, chicken, egg, butter and beef?" to the bemusement of the waiter and no doubt to the cooks inside.
Well, it was our last night in New York. It was absolutely freezing, I was hungry and we'd lost half of our crew from the hostel. Times Square was beginning to look like a maze, and everyone was beginning to get a bit agitated. Yet, like a mirage appearing out of the desert, coming to our aid was Maoz Vegetarian.
Starting back in 1991, Maoz Vegetarian opened up in Amsterdam to critical local reception. It's philosophy has always been to develop and expand an eatery that was nutritious, fast and vegetarian. Most ex-pats would recognise the familiar green and white layout. Maoz Vegetarian is now an international franchise with branches in Europe and US, but unfortunately is still yet to make it here to Australia.
With its glowing neon lights amidst the sea of glare in Times Square, we went into Maoz with high seeded hopes. The store reminded me of Subway with its station-styled service, as in you go to this station to pay, go here to pick up your falafel etc. The layout is simple and very franchisesque in the sense that there's no individuality, you can't really identify a character, vibe or theme in the store. It's just a store; a layout and system that can be replicated and reproduced anywhere in the world.
Essentially Maoz is a fast food falafel joint, where they give you pita bread with falafel balls in it and you simply then go across to the salad bar and heap on as much or as little salad as you want. Eggplant and hummus can be added in the pita bread before you set off on your salad journey if you wish. You can either get it on its own or as part of a meal with sweet potato fries or Belgian fries. Traditional Middle Eastern salads were present, such as tabbouli and chickpea salads. And if you're like me who hates it when there's too much salad on one side of the bread or when the salad dressing isn't even, the unlimited refills of salad and sauce ensures every mouthful is satisfying. And the falafel balls themselves are crisp and crunchy on the outside whilst fluffy on the inside. I prefer my falafels to have a mild taste, not too overpowering in terms of herbs and spices, which Maoz delivers.
The sweet potato fries here deserve their own individual mention. I love sweet potato. My mum loves sweet potato. I think it's genetic. So I guess it comes to no surprise that I loved Maoz sweet potato fries. If you've never tried sweet potato fries and you want a bit of sweetness with your fries, definitely give these a go. In terms of sweetness, I'd say it reminds me of honey. It's a rich sweetness that lingers, unlike the sweetness of sugar which is acute and disappears quite rapidly. Apparently sweet potato is 'healthier' than normal potatoes when it comes to fries, but when they both get deep fried I have my doubts as to how much healthier one alternative can have other the other. Perhaps it's pure nostalgia but sweet potatoes always give me a warm and fuzzy feeling. It might have something to do with the fact my grandparents would on occasion boil up some sweet potatoes, and we would sit around the kitchen bench nibbling on sweet potato.
One thing I remember distinctly was the freshness of the salads. When you can hear the crisp of the lettuce leaves and the crunch of the cucumbers, it really changes your entire eating experience. It makes your meal more palatable, that's for sure, but it also says volumes about the care shown by the business to ensure the vegetables are as fresh as can be, which is no easy feat, especially when the business is a multi-national franchise. I mean, when was the last time you experienced crisp lettuce in your Subway roll? So kudos to Maoz for maintaining and delivering a fresh and healthy product. Please come to Australia, your existence is needed.