August 14th, 2009
09:31 PM ET

Hands off of my Falafel!

Octavia Nasr | BIO
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Editor, Mideast Affairs

Have you had a Falafel sandwich lately? I have had at least five in the past month alone. You see, Falafel is my favorite food and I won’t miss an opportunity to enjoy the vegetarian sandwich. From Beirut to Singapore, I’ve tried all kinds of local twists and turns on the richly spicy chick pea and fava bean-based deep fried ball patties.

There is something wild about Falafel. I’m not the only one devoted enough to admit my love of this spicy vegetarian food; there are people all over the world posting silly videos of themselves idolizing the Middle Eastern specialty.


Falafel is comfort food for Arabs and Israelis alike. Each group claims to have the best and tastiest mix of ingredients. On both sides you can find the Kings of Falafel; and if this weren’t enough, I did eat once at a shop called “King of all kings of Falafel.”

But where did this recipe originate? The jury is out. Serious debates are raging on this subject. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism uses Falafel in a campaign to lure tourists to the country; while the Lebanese Industrialists Association launched its own campaign called, "hands off our food" threatening to sue Israel for what they call their signature ethnic foods - Falafel, Tabbouleh and Hummus. http://www.ali.org.lb/

In Egypt, Falafel is such an indispensable staple that even the local McDonald's carries a special sandwich called - what else?– MAC Falafel.


In Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other Israeli and Palestinian cities, people enjoy a local pita pocket stuffed with the small deep fried vegetarian patties and a variety of other ingredients - from fried eggplants, fried cauliflowers, pickles, French fries and hummus.

In Lebanon and Syria, the sandwich - with falafel, tomatoes, greens and Tahini sauce - is served tightly rolled and ready to be wolfed down.

A man at a popular Falafel stop in Beirut expressed what many Falafel enthusiasts feel, "I came in from Dubai” he said, “ I've been here for a couple of days and I don't want to leave before having one of these sandwiches."

Falafel is such an important staple in the Middle East, it inspired Falafel, the movie.


Author and Director Michel Kammoun chronicled the life of a Lebanese man whose life he compared to a Falafel ball trying in vain to escape its fate. In the movie, Kammoun makes up tales glorifying the importance and even miraculous role of Falafel in the life of the masses. In a scene, one of his characters boasts, "In the island of Sumatra once, it rained Falafel for 30 straight minutes over poor areas."

Not to be outdone, an Israeli company created an online game of Falafel for those who just can't get enough of it.


And one company took the Falafel experience to a whole new level.


It used the unique recipe to describe a history of the company with the ingredients as props. Take the case of an image of its worldwide stores, drawn with Tahini sauce.

Trying to understand why this modest food has such a following in the region – and all over the world – is a mystery to some. What is certain is that for Falafel lovers like me, just mentioning the word conjures up images of a delicious sandwich and a favorite place that offers it; and THAT there is no arguing about.

So, are you a POCKET or ROLL Falafel person? Where is your favorite Falafel store? What is your Falafel story?

Filed under: Middle East • Octavia Nasr
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Sammy

    Show: Generation Islam.

    Excellent presentation by Amanpour. Lot of the times, the good elements are buried deep under / behind the bad ones.

    I had only ONE question / feedback: The Children (abandoned or not) – it's really not their fault and the hatred is real BUT I have seen , lived near MANY MANY muslims – why do they raise SO MANY children IF they cannot or not in a position to provide a good future / even basic necessities to them ?????

    I can tell you that this is not always 'cause of illiteracy (awareness of birth control) and MANY of them consider birth control is a sin (just because Quran rightfully says kids are God's gift!!!).

    In your show the girl had 9 siblings!!!!!!! Parents cannot take care of even 1/2???

    Why don't these people learn about basic education BEFORE they learn about religion or Quran(in 99.99% of the cases, I know ALL of them learn religion first AND pray EVEN IF they do not have food to eat..... result ???? is partly what we all are seeing today!!)

    Hope someone works towards fixing this and the "donkeys" learn that politicians are seldom unselfish!!

    August 16, 2009 at 10:20 pm |
  2. Claudia

    ahhh falafel...there's a great place by the FIU main campus where I go here in Miami....pita, falafel, hummus YUMMY!

    August 15, 2009 at 8:21 pm |
  3. Mary Alice Bishop

    I can't find, anywhere, on this site find where I can leave a comment about Michael Vick's situation so I decided this article would be a good place to leave it. I hope it reached it's appropriate place.

    iIask this...If God can forgive Michael Vick, why can't we forgive him? It seems so simple especially when he has, clearly, stated that he is very sorry.

    Mary Alice Bishop
    A Southern Catholic girl

    August 15, 2009 at 7:05 pm |
  4. Becky Forland

    Yum. Many memories. Isn't there a somewhat current movie about dueling Falafel stands, ala Romeo and Juliet? I think it is a musical.
    I love Falafel.

    August 15, 2009 at 7:24 am |
  5. Pam

    Amsterdam has fabulous falafel stands..the sandwiches are laden with an onion/tomatoey sauce, then topped off with tzatziki..What I would give for one now!

    August 14, 2009 at 10:13 pm |
  6. Catherine

    Falafel is one of my favorite foods. From LA to Paris, I've never had a bad one. Thanks Octavia. Now, I will wan one all weekend.=)

    August 14, 2009 at 9:48 pm |
  7. Shahd

    i talked about the McFalafel in my communication class!!! I want to try it!

    August 14, 2009 at 9:41 pm |
  8. andye

    Ali Baba down on Broad St has some pretty good Falafel!:) Also Sultan's on Roswell Rd! Ohhhh the pleasures of living in an Intl Cmmty:)

    August 14, 2009 at 8:33 pm |
  9. Annie Kate

    Well, I've not had one of these but my daughter and I would love to try one – after I find out what hummus is – it sounds like something you put on your lawn to help reinvigorate it!!

    August 14, 2009 at 7:44 pm |
  10. Lili S.

    I think this is my favorite CNN piece ever. Amusing and informative all the same. Falafel is amazing, but t's definitely better in a pita pocket than on a roll! I think Israel has the best.

    August 14, 2009 at 5:56 pm |
  11. Muhammed

    I love falafel ...
    I regret watching this video... now I had drive 18miles to get falafel from my fav Lebanese shop in Elgin,IL

    August 14, 2009 at 5:54 pm |
  12. Peaches

    Pocket falaffel please!! Yum, cucumbers, tomatoes green peppers a must!

    August 14, 2009 at 5:08 pm |
  13. Joe G. (Illinois)

    Even a ice cube that is just a ice cube can taste many different ways.. But something is for sure.. Someone needs to know how to make one. And if for some fantastic reason a woman, mother, daughter can’t make one for life of her… Go to CNN?

    August 14, 2009 at 3:45 pm |