On La Rue des Rosiers in the Le Marais district of Paris’s 4th arrondissement folks have plenty to be excited about. And around a place called Chez Hanna there’s a particularly palpable hush, like the chilled silence of a site where something important has happened. People sit on the curb or stand around with palmsful of pita overflowing with sauces, salads and falafel.
They’ve quit chatting and zeroed in on their sandwich. The focus now is on a plan of attack for how to support the wet little package of veg and which angles to bite from to lose the least possible sauce or toppings. What caught my attention as I stared shamelessly at their grub were the luscious rounds of grilled eggplant lain over the top, perfectly caramelized to a juicy fork-tender. It was enough for me to tug at my friend’s shirtsleeves. Luckily he was on the same page.
From what I’ve read Chez Hanna is the real neighborhood favorite. In many reviews it even surpasses L’as du Falafel, the more loudly hyped and less accessible (line-wise) falafel shack on the Rue. Hanna’s has a sitting room for platters and more serious dining, along with a street-front takeaway counter that sells the sandwiches at half the price. They’re best known for their falafel, which comes with fresh veggies and a trio of sauces in pita.
We were feeling adventurous, so we got their Boulette de Viande sandwich with köfte style meatballs, hummus, tahini, a tomato and onion based spicy red sauce that I think may have been some version of acılı ezme, a light yoghurt sauce, crudités of carrot + cucumber, and those two big and beautiful slices of aubergine that I think are generally a Parisian kebab thing (since I’ve peeped them at most stands). All that goodness is wrapped up in a fluffy and fresh pita that, though firm enough in texture, is barely big enough to hold it all in.
We whipped off the two eggplant slices immediately and ate those first. They were as creamy, charred and naturally sweet as I was hoping they’d be. Then came the first bite of meatball, brilliantly tender and smooth in consistency, smothered by sauces that gave each bite tons of depth. The natural sweetness from the tomato and the spice from the herbs in the red were balanced nicely by the fresh, cool tang of the yogurt sauce. Thick, velvety smooth hummus collected in pockets of bread and veg like hidden land mines of toasty, nutty flavor that exploded and coated the palate when bitten into. And the fresh cukes and carrots gave tons of crunch to offset an otherwise moist and soft bite of eggplant, meat and sauce.
It would be misleading to omit one very important detail about eating a sandwich from Chez Hanna: it’s a messy endeavour. Sauce streamed down our fingers, wet veggies tumbled to the ground. Each bite, no matter how strategically planned, made the next more challenging and the deeper into the sandwich we got the more we had to lean forward to avoid multicolored stains on our pants, sleeves and shoes. But that’s all part of the thrill of the thing, this dense little bundle of meat, veg and sauce that we devoured with our eyes closed, humming with joy.