Tucked in next to downtown’s Kronan supermarket lies Chickpea, a new bijoux vegetarian eatery. Walk by too fast and you might miss it, but step inside and you’ll be treated to a warm, inviting restaurant whose heart lies in freshly made falafel.
The birth of Chickpea
Maria Maximciuc started Chickpea along with her husband Artiom Drusca and their best friend Veaceslav Sirghii. The couple moved here unexpectedly from Moldova nine years ago after falling in love with the country on what was supposed to be a short trip here.
Since coming to Iceland, Maria has had a few different jobs, but in the back of her mind, she always wanted to start a restaurant. And so, when she found herself without a job at the beginning of the pandemic, she took it as a sign to finally make her dreams come true. “I remember my husband said, ‘So isn’t it the best time to finally do what we want to do?’” she says, laughing. “And so we started looking for a location.”
The restaurant was always going to be based around falafel, Maria explains. “My husband loves falafel. He was always making it for friends from scratch and they’d say, ‘Oh my god, it’s so good! You should open a restaurant!’” she says. Heeding their friends’ advice wasn’t a stretch — Artiom is a professional chef, and he and Veaceslav have worked in the industry for many years pre-Chickpea at restaurants such as Coocoo’s Nest. “And here in Reykjavík,” Maria continues. ”You really couldn’t get that good falafel made from scratch anywhere.”
And so Chickpea was born. “I knew that the food was going to be great, but it was just as important to find a good location. We didn’t want it to be on the main street. No, we wanted to do this for the locals and not focus on the tourists,” she says lightly.
The soul of Chickpea
And no doubt, the eatery has achieved its goal. When I arrive, it’s in the midst of the bustling lunch rush. And though there are few seats—even fewer right now due to the gathering restrictions—all are taken up by those happily munching on pitas or salads.
The portions are generous, I note, the moment my falafel and salad land in front of me. I’ve opted not for the classic falafel, but rather their spicy version with kimchi along with their crispy chickpea salad. Upon first bite, I know immediately that absolutely everything—from the aforementioned falafel to the delicate pita to the tangy kimchi—is freshly made, and I can’t help but take a moment to savour it. Hey, it’s not every day you’re treated to such a prized trio.
“Every morning, the boys come here to start making the dough and baking the bread, and then we make the falafel base,” Maria says, smiling. And many of the ingredients, she emphasises, are locally sourced. She then explains where the kimchi recipe comes from—it’s a family secret, given to Maria and Artiom by their beautiful friend Renee from Taiwan.
Those fresh bites
The falafel very much brings to mind the fresh bites you’d find on the carts of the Middle East—and the salad is equally as visceral. While large, neither are particularly heavy and though I’m undeniably full after my meal, I’m still energetic. I’m particularly excited to try more of their salads in the coming weeks. The downtown area currently doesn’t have a dedicated salad place—but Chickpea could easily fill that niche.
“We love the zero waste ideology and have a mindful kitchen,” Maria says. “We’re offering biodegradable packaging with all the food taken away and are using environmentally friendly soaps and cleaning products inside.”
As I leave, I note they also have homemade kombucha on offer. And while I kick myself a bit that I didn’t grab a glass to pair with my meal, I’m pretty confident I’ll be back soon, so it seems Maria was right when she said they made this place for the locals.
“This is our soul. All of our hearts are here,” Maria concludes. “Chickpea is made for us and the customers to enjoy.”
Check out Chickpea on Facebook and at Hallveigarstígur 1.
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