Egypt: The Original
With its Pharaonic roots, Egyptian falafel, or taameya, is made strictly from fava beans, and some say it is the original. Spices for the vegetarian-friendly dish vary from country to country, or even cart by cart, and are often flavored with cilantro, cumin, dried coriander, red pepper paste, garlic, parsley and onion for distinct local flavors. Egyptians, however, tout their homegrown taameya as bursting with a thousand flavors.
Israel and Palestine: A Two-State Solution
Here's something Israelis and Palestinians actually agree on: chickpeas trump fava beans. As falafel made its northern migration through the Middle East, fava beans were replaced with chickpeas as the falafel base. The crunchy exterior usually takes on a golden, rather than fava-bean green, hue, except when it's mixed with parsley or mint.
Syria: The Brightest Falafel?
Syrian falafels are doughnut-shaped and filled with distinct color and spice. Tart sumac, kabees left, or pickled turnips, and spicy pepper sauce are essential ingredients for traditional falafels.
Morocco: Slow-Cooked Falafel
Morocco’s falafel is often an ingredient in its national dish, a slow-cooked stew or tagine. Preserved lemons, a regional staple, are also served with falafel. These lemons are soaked in lemon juice, oil, or salt, which make their bitter taste turn sweet.
Iraq: Some Like it Tangy
In Iraq, a popular ingredient in falafel sandwiches is amba, a tangy mango pickle sauce. Like its South Asian condiment cousin, amchar, it always wins at self-service falafel carts.
Turkey: The Coolest Falafel
Dialed-down to enjoy the fried bean medley, falafel in Turkey is usually served with yogurt sauce, or yogurt mixed with fresh herbs and spices.
Jordan: Heavyweight Champion
Often a source of both pride and prejudice, regional scores are settled in the kitchen. This year, Team Jordan weighed in by breaking a Guinness world record for largest falafel, making a near 165-pound protein heavyweight.
Israel: A Side of Fries
Israel’s falafel, with Jewish and European nods, is served with chopped tomato, cucumber salad, hummus and tahini, a sesame seed paste. The Israeli twist comes when fries are thrown into the mix.
Wherever You Are: Mind the Drip
Often housed inside baguettes, aish baladi, lavash or wrapped in a slim pita, falafel sandwiches throughout the region often fail to remain inside the boundaries of the wrappings.
Falafel Spreads Its Beans
Reflected in regional palates, falafel belongs to an evolving food diaspora — appreciated, re-imagined and enjoyed worldwide. Whether people are attempting to recreate tastes of home or create new cuisine, falafel fuels nostalgia and nourishes around the globe.
From Egypt's fava-bean original to Syria's doughnut-shaped falafel, even deep-fried beans can fuel debate. Al-Monitor takes a look at the culinary staple in its different forms as it evolved in the region and beyond.