Amit Sidi’s neighbor couldn’t find a good falafel stand. The two were Israelis living in Silver Lake and the lack of easy-to-find falafel and hummus was becoming a problem. It was 2019, and Sidi was working in film production, but cooking “was always in the back of my head,” she says. “And then, it was probably a slow month or whatnot, but I thought, ‘Why don’t I just do it?’” Sidi had never opened a pop-up or cooked professionally before, but, as she explains, her dream was to open a falafel shop that is “affordable, healthy, fresh, and for everybody.”
After introductions through friends, Sidi connected with Sarah Bessade, owner of Loupiotte Kitchen in Los Feliz, who offered her space. “That was less than six months after they opened,” Sidi says. She took the offer and in July 2019 ran a pop-up serving her homemade tri-colored falafel, sabich (a pita with eggplant, chopped salad, and tahini), and malabi milk pudding for dessert. “It was completely nuts,” she says of that first night. “Then I did another one the following month, and it was even crazier. After that, I was like, I do not want to go back” to film production. B’ivrit was born.
Over the next few years, Sidi would come into her own as a chef, and B’ivrit (Hebrew for “in Hebrew”) grew into regular pop-ups at Jewel and 4100 Bar in Silver Lake, as well as at Smorgasburg in Downtown’s Arts District. Now, four years and one pandemic later, B’ivrit has found its permanent home along a quickly developing stretch of Cypress Park.
As B’ivrit has expanded, Sidi made the conscious decision to go vegan with the menu. “Starting off a business and benefiting from [animal] suffering or something that’s not sustainable for the environment, I didn’t want to partake in that,” she says. But how do you turn street food that centers around meat (think shawarma and arayes) into enjoyable plant-based versions that don’t distract from the experience?
“I was reverse engineering the experience of shawarma, asking ‘What is it?’” Sidi says. “To me, it’s the seasoning, the bread, the fat, the relationship inside — what goes on inside the pita. When you eat shawarma and you get to the end of it, that’s the essence of the whole meal.” She tested coconut meat and other vegan options to replace the shawarma itself (usually lamb, or a mix of lamb and beef). None worked. When she tried cauliflower, Sidi says, “On the first try, it was like, ‘Boom, we found it.’” The result is as flavorful and filling as traditional shawarma.
For her arayes (meat-stuffed pitas), Sidi blends black lentils and eggplant with mushrooms and onions to replicate the texture and the flavor of meat, then punches it up with parsley and her own blend of spices. For the knafeh, she swaps in coconut cream for the sweet dairy filling and tops it with pistachio.
In the Cypress Park space, Sidi has built a cozy outdoor patio lined with wood planks that feels more like a street food stall along the beaches of Tel Aviv than something in the heart of LA. She often reflects on how the last four years have unfolded since she left film production. “Right now, I can’t imagine doing something else,” she says. “My job is to cook, you know? It’s crazy to me because I love doing it. I’ll go home and I’ll cook too. I’ll have friends over and I’ll make them dinner, and they’re like, ‘You shouldn’t be cooking. You’re off.’”
With B’ivrit opening on Friday, October 13, Sidi’s dream has come to life. Does she ever stop and acknowledge to herself what she’s achieved? “Yes,” Sidi says with a laugh. “It was weird how it happened: I was doing the pop-up one day and said ‘Okay, this is me. This makes sense.’”
B’ivrit is located at 1173 1/2 Cypress Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90065, in Cypress Park. Current hours are Friday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., with plans to expand hours to Wednesday and Thursday in the future.