You'll find falafel everywhere in town these days. Thanks to the street food movement of recent years, the falafel is now lapping up the limelight, taking centre stage on the Middle Eastern menus of places like Hummus, Mana Mana, and Beyrouth. But what is it that makes falafel so good?
These little bites are a textural treat. Hot and crunchy on the outside. Soft and fluffy on the inside. They're most famously made with chickpeas, but fava beans and broad beans are also commonly used as a base. And then they're brought to life with heaps of fresh herbs and spices, and traditionally served up in a pita bread with crisp salads and a good drizzling of tahini sauce.
The falafel is a flexible canvas for chefs to exercise their artistic flair, but there's a handful of flavours that almost always make the cut. Parsley and coriander lift the mixture with an aromatic freshness. A tang of garlic is normally in there, and other regulars include ginger, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and plenty of salt and pepper. Some recipes go for a punch of chilli, cayenne, or paprika too.
Nobody's sure where falafel came from, so every claim is controversial – though it's easy to see why a whole host of countries would want the fritters to be theirs. Many say that the dish originated in Egypt, yet it's also widely considered to be the national dish of Israel, as well as some suggestions that it's from Lebanon.
But while we won't enter into that debate, we can confirm this – in 2012 a new record was created for the World's Largest Falafel, weighing in at 75kg. Just think how big the pita bread would have to be.
Saying that, the modern falafel is now just as comfortable served up in a cool and contemporary salad box, with the flatbread served on the side, so you can assemble it as you wish. Hummus offer up falafel with pita, hummus and sauces – but you can also get it atop a salad, with plenty of feta, chickpeas and a nutty tahini dressing.
Mana Mana offer up an array of Israeli dishes, and their falafel balls come with tahini, fruity amba and a mix of vegetables. Get extra pita on the side, or go the less traditional route and grab some extra aubergine fries. And at Beyrouth, falafel are one of the most popular dishes on the menu. Grab some other appetisers and make yourself a Lebanese mezze feast.
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