Even someone who knows virtually nothing about food and views anything that has spices and seasoning added as exotic will have to have heard of the falafel. That’s how far reaching and pervasive the popularity of the little falafel is.
If you are one of the many who knows what a falafel is but have never gotten around to actually trying one – perhaps because you worry Middle Eastern food is outside your comfort zone, or you don’t usually order a dish that doesn’t have meat in it – then you need to take the plunge and try one. This could be part of a mezze, a variety of dishes shared with friends, or in a pitta or wrap just for yourself. Have a look at some of these falafel facts to whet your appetite.
So, for those who might not be aware, the falafel is usually a mix of chick peas and fava beans with garlic, chillies and spices, which is then deep fried (or oven baked) into a ball or patty. The fact that falafels are meatless makes them an extremely popular choice for not just vegetarians but also diners who want a healthier alternative to meat dishes, or who are taking part in a “meat-free” diet day. The mix of chick peas and spices offer a high protein meal that doesn’t sacrifice taste.
The original Arabic falafel (فلافل ) comes from the plural of Filfil, which means “pepper” or “peppercorn,” most likely referencing the falafel’s seasoning and shape.
The term “falafel” was first used as a general name for the food in English in the 1940’s, but the origin of the food itself is far less clear. Many believe the falafel was invented in Egypt over a thousand years ago, by religious observers who wanted an alternative to meat, which had to be given up for Lent. Others believe that the falafel was around much earlier than this, with some even attesting its roots lie in the time of the ancient Egyptians.
Though originally popular in Middle-Eastern and Jewish countries, the mixing of different societies and cultures over time has seen the falafel spread from its beginnings to be a popular staple throughout the world. It is now common to see Falafel for sale from street vendors in busy urban cities, and it has found a new lease of life, with the rise of vegetarianism and veganism. In Western countries in particular, Falafel is often used to repurpose meat dishes such as burgers, meatloaf or even spaghetti and meatballs, to make them suitable for vegetarians.
Whether the falafel proves to be an old or an ancient invention, its longevity and popularity throughout time attest to its versatility. Falafel can be eaten by itself, with dips and sauces, in a pitta or wrapped in a Taboon (a traditional flatbread). There is no exacting recipe for a falafel and, like many staple dishes, the ingredients can change from country to country, and even from person to person as everyone has their own preferences and traditions they like to follow.