Octavia Nasr | BIO
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?
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