The Daily Telegraph

Britain catches falafel fever

The rise in Middle Eastern immigratio­n and the trend towards plant-based food are fuelling the craze. By Tomé Morrissy-swan


There’s no surer sign another country’s food has hit the mainstream in Britain than its presence on a rural pub menu. These days, alongside fish and chips, halloumi fries and Panang curry, you may well spot falafel.

Across the country, in restaurant­s, takeaways and street-food stalls, the Middle Eastern patties are proliferat­ing like never before. Go Falafel, founded in Manchester in 2012, now has three sites in the city, two in London and one in Liverpool. In Bradford, Falafel n’ Juice opened last year and has received rave reviews from locals on social media. This summer, the Israeli pitta chain Miznon opened in Soho, in London, and Dubai’s Operation: Falafel is arriving later this year.

Driving this boom, according to those who run the restaurant­s, is a rise in interest in veganism, increasing­ly well-travelled customers, immigratio­n from the Middle East and the belief that falafel is healthy, at least in relation to other fast food stalwarts such as burgers and pizza. Full of fibre, protein and vitamins, a falafel wrap filled with plenty of salad is only let down in the health stakes by deepfrying. “Having said that, it’s still a better choice nutritiona­lly compared to many other fast foods,” says health writer Sam Rice.

One of the most popular lunches among Telegraph staff is the longrunnin­g falafel stand at a nearby street-food market in Pimlico. For £5, a huge wrap is stuffed with freshly fried falafel, salad, hummus, tahini, pickled turnips, potatoes and aubergine. Halloumi is extra. It’s so filling that working in the afternoon can be a struggle.

The deep-fried balls or patties of ground chickpea or fava beans, with added herbs, spices and onion and garlic, are widely eaten across the Middle East. While it varies from region to region, they’re often consumed in a wrap or pitta with salad, tahini, pickles and chilli sauce. A cheap, filling street food, falafel should be eaten as soon as it emerges from the fryer, piping hot and crunchy on the outside; light and soft within.

Eyal Shani, an Israeli celebrity chef and founder of Miznon, describes the perfectly constructe­d falafel sandwich as a “seductive journey into the bottom of the pitta, where all the sauces come out – that’s the best bit, it [tastes like] heaven”.

Though long popular in Britain, particular­ly among immigrant communitie­s, falafel is now a nationwide staple, and has swiftly become one of our most popular fast foods. Even supermarke­ts are crammed with oven-bake options, often with novelty flavours, which Helen Graham, executive chef at London’s Bubala, says are best avoided. “I don’t think falafel should be refrigerat­ed and then heated, you lose that lightness,” she explains.

“When I opened my shop in Norwich in 2011, there wasn’t anything like it,” says Samia King, founder of Moorish Falafel. Now there is a second site, and Norwich is one of the country’s top cities for vegan food. While King’s recipe is based on the Israeli version, using cumin, coriander, paprika, garlic, onion and fresh herbs in the patty and served in pitta, she likes to experiment. A Mexican option mixes falafel with guacamole; a Greek one with feta. “We get people telling us we’re doing it all wrong, and [other] people telling us it’s amazing.”

Miznon doesn’t serve falafel in any of its Israeli or global sites, but when it opened in London, Shani decided to include the dish. This is because, despite the city’s clear love of falafel, he didn’t think the local offering was up to scratch.

“I said, ‘I will make it better’. I felt that if I love falafel so much, why not give it to people here.” His falafel, which surprising­ly uses Guinness to add lightness, has gone down well in the capital.

Yet many would disagree that London’s falafel offering is below par. From the Lebanese restaurant­s in Park Royal and the Edgware Road to Balady, a small kosher chain, London’s falafel scene is booming. Mr Falafel, a Palestinia­n-run spot in Shepherd’s Bush, west London, has a cult following, and falafel comes in several styles, including Iraqi (with a pickled mango condiment called amba). Served in a wrap rather than pitta, it neverthele­ss “hits the spot”, says Sami Tamimi, the Jerusalem-born founding director of the Ottolenghi restaurant­s, and co-author, with Yotam Ottolenghi, of the bestsellin­g Jerusalem cookbook. In Turkish, Greek and Syrian restaurant­s, too, falafel is ubiquitous, often as part of a mezze platter.

Falafel is not without controvers­y. Like with hummus, there is fervent debate, particular­ly in Israel and Palestine, over cultural appropriat­ion. A popular song in Israel in 1958 went “Only we have falafel”. However, in the 1990s, its lyricist Dan Almagor admitted he would include a line about falafel’s Arab origins if he re-wrote it and, for many, the dish is just a deep-fried pulse patty shared across religious, ethnic and geographic­al boundaries.

“If we have all these dishes without labelling them as mine or yours [and] instead say ‘us’, that would be a lot easier to swallow for everybody,” says Tamimi.

One thing almost all agree on is that falafel’s origins lie in Egypt, where it is made from broad beans rather than chickpeas and known as ta’amiya. London-born Ahmed El Shimi founded the award-winning Wowshee Egyptian Falafel, a street-food stall in Soho, in 2017. He says one theory is that Coptic Christians would make the patties during Lent, when meat was eschewed, making falafel, perhaps, the original meat substitute. “It’s important to show it’s Egyptian, too,” says El Shimi.

Back in Pimlico on a Friday afternoon, the street-food market is bustling in the warm autumnal sunshine. Charcoal smoke wafts enticingly from the kebab stall; the hot woks at the pad Thai stand create wonderful stir fries in minutes. But there’s only one place for me: the falafel stand. Many others clearly feel the same – it almost always has the longest queue.

‘It is a seductive journey into the bottom of the pitta where the sauces come out – it’s heaven’

 ?? ?? Fast food: Tomé Morrissy-swan with his falafel wrap at Tachbrook Street Market
Fast food: Tomé Morrissy-swan with his falafel wrap at Tachbrook Street Market

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom