The Falafel Issue

Writer

Rima Alsammarae

Photographer

Djinane AlSuwayeh

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Order a copy of the July/August 2015 issue here.

It’s simple in theory: food is needed for survival. But, naturally, there’s much more to food than just eating. Whether you’re dining on Iraqi murag or Algerian merguez, traditional dishes stand as strong cultural references, communicating to natives and visitors alike the customs passed down through generations. And while many dishes have changed over time, others have remained the same since their original inceptions, in both use and significance. Such foods are the ones that have fed both the rich and the poor, like pizza, samosa, shawarma and of course, falafel.

Though there are prevalent variations of falafel across the Middle East and North Africa, like the Egyptian ta’amiyeh, the food’s essential ingredients, cultural relevance and common applications have been consistent for more than a century. Since our great-grandparents’ time, and likely even before then, the falafel ball has provided vital nutritional and social value. It brings together people of all backgrounds, ages and professions. And while the continuity of falafel has been perpetuated by generations of Middle Easterners, its significance has spread to other places as well, with its popularity fuelling a drive-in in San Jose and sparking culinary experiments among Niger’s rural communities.

So important and permanent is falafel in the Middle East, that in 1984, Kuwait’s late Emir, Jaber Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, issued a decree fixing the price of falafel to never be more or less than 100 Kuwaiti fills, or 33 US cents. This political move not only ensured that the country’s poor and rich alike would forever be fed, but it also claimed falafel as a mainstay in regional cuisine.

In this issue, we find that falafel is the basis for a number of success stories, too. One such example hails from Turkey’s Aegean coast, where Olga and Özgür Irez set up a backyard falafel café. Another details a Palestinian-Finnish entrepreneur in Sweden, living la vida falafel, with a popular cart on the streets in Stockholm.

From Palestine to Niger, Stockholm to California, falafel may have a global reputation but it’s an undeniable marker of Arab identity – bringing people together every day with its unlikely yet winning combination of chickpeas, tahini and fresh, warm bread.

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