Falafel restaurant in Nazareth, Israel.
Falafel balls

Falafel (Arabic: فلافل falaafil, Hebrew: פָלָאפֶל; also known in Egypt and Sudan as ta'meya, Arabic طعمية), is a fried ball or patty made from spiced fava beans and/or chickpeas. It is a popular form of fast food in the Middle East, where it is also served as a mezze (snack or tapas).

The word "falafel" is the plural of the Arabic word فلفل (filfil), meaning pepper.[1] Variant spellings in English include felafel and filafil.

Falafel is generally served in pita bread, either inside the pita, which acts as a pocket, or wrapped in a flat pita. In many countries, falafel is a popular street food or fast food. The falafel balls, whole or crushed, may be topped with salads, pickled vegetables and hot sauce, and drizzled with techina (tahini). Falafel balls may also be eaten alone as a snack or served as part of a mezze. During Ramadan, they are sometimes eaten as part of an iftar, the meal which breaks the daily fast after sunset.

Falafel has been part of the diet of Arabs, as well as Mizrahi Jews for centuries.[2] It is also a staple of the Israeli diet and has become the national dish of Israel.[3]

Falafel is now popular as a street food in countries around the world. Sometimes it is offered as a vegetarian alternative to Döner kebab.


Falafel originated in Egypt, where it was first made with fava beans as the base. As the dish migrated northwards to Syria and Palestine, chickpeas were introduced instead. Falafel was consumed by Arabs of all religious denominations. It was also eaten by Jews in Egypt and Syria.[2]

After hundreds of thousands of Jews emigrated to Israel from Arab countries in the 1950s, falafel became an Israeli emblem. The proliferation of falafel stands, operated in particular by Jews from Yemen, made, "it possible to incorporate elements like falafel without referring to them as Palestinian."[2] A popular Israeli song composed by Dan Almagor in 1958, "And We Have Falafel," included a line claiming falafel as an exclusive Israeli provenance.[2] Palestinians and Arabs have been offended by the cultural appropriation of this iconic food.

Some Israelis and Jews have since recognized the controversy. For example, Ammiel Alcalay, a Jewish professor of Middle Eastern culture, has described the Israeli adoption of falafel as "total appropriation" and Dan Almagor notes that if he were composing his song on falafel today, he would now include a line mentioning the dish's Arab origins.[2]


Falafel is made from fava beans or chickpeas or a combination of the two. The Egyptian variation uses exclusively fava beans, while other variations may only use chickpeas. Unlike many other bean patties, in falafel the beans are not cooked prior to use. Instead they are soaked, possibly skinned, then ground with the addition of a small quantity of onion, parsley, spices (including cumin), and bicarbonate of soda, and deep fried at a high temperature. Sesame seeds may be added to the balls before they are fried; this is particularly common when falafel is served as a dish on its own rather than as a sandwich filling.

Recent culinary trends have seen the triumph of the chickpea falafel over the fava bean falafel. Chickpea falafels are served across the Middle East, and have been popularized by expatriates of those countries living abroad.


Falafel production

Outside the Middle East a Greek-style pita bread is often used as a pocket and stuffed with the different ingredients; in Arab countries a round khubz bread, 'eish' in Egypt, is halved, and the two resulting round pieces are used to create a cigar-shaped wrap. In Arab countries, hummus (chickpeas pureed with tahini) is rarely an ingredient. The usual sauce is tahini (sesame seed paste) thinned with water and lemon. The most common salad ingredients are tomato and parsley. In Lebanon parsley is mixed with chopped mint leaves. It is also common in Syria and Lebanon to add pickles; the two canonical ones are pickled turnip, colored pink with beetroot, and pickled cucumber. Recently, there has been a new "filled" falafel, its center usually consisting of ground meat or minced onions. These fillings are wrapped by the uncooked falafel mixture, and then deep fried.

The salads or the pita itself may be seasoned with sumac or salt; alternatively, these may be sprinkled on top. In Syria, sumac is widely used.

Related dishes

Cultural and literary references


  1. ^ “Falafel.” The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000. Accessed on April 6 2006.
  2. ^ a b c d e Jodi Kantor (July 10, 2002). "A History of the Mideast in the Humble Chickpea". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-23. ((cite web)): Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  3. ^ Yael Raviv, "Falafel: A National Icon", Gastronomica, Summer 2003, 3:3:20-25. Discusses how an Arab dish became "the national food of Israel".

See also