Tourist Tip #15 / Falafel

This fried ball of joy is the go-to grub for anyone seeking a quick, hearty meal. It's a Middle Eastern culinary staple that all the regional countries are trying to claim as their own.

What’s world famous, one of the Middle East’s best-known exports and the subject of some controversy? It's none other than the humble falafel.

Eaten throughout the Middle East, falafel is generally acknowledged to have first been made in Egypt, possibly as a Coptic Christian substitute for meat during Lent. Whereas in Egypt, falafel tends to be made with fava beans, in the rest of the Levan, it is made of mashed up chickpeas.

This vegetarian fast food occupies an iconic spot in Israeli culinary consciousness, and it’s safe to say you can find it in every town in the country.

But what exactly is falafel? Made from ground chickpeas flavored with spices such as cumin, falafel balls are usually deep fried, leaving them crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. In Israel, they're usually served stuffed inside a warm piece of pita bread, along with salad and tahini (sesame seed paste) and hummus. Other common additions include spicy sauce, French fries, pickled vegetables and onion.

Although falafel long predates the State of Israel, it has been referred to as the national food. This has caused some controversy with neighboring Arab countries who also claim it as their own. The tension has led to inspired falafel innovations – like in 2010, when Lebanon broke the Guinness Word Record, previously held by Israel, for the largest falafel ball (as well as the biggest bowl of hummus). In case you’re wondering, a new record was recently set when 10 chefs in Jordan lumped together a 74.75 kilo falafel ball on July 28.

Food fights aside, falafel is viewed in Israel as an informal, tasty snack you typically grab from a neighborhood food stand. The variety and quality of local falafel joints may go some way toward explaining why McDonalds withdrew the “McFalafel” meal from their Israeli branches last year after disappointing sales.  

Regardless, it means you shouldn’t have any difficulty getting your hands on the healthy and delicious fast food on your next trip to Israel.