FESTIVAL GUIDE: A history of falafel – “As a fest food it ticks all the boxes”


With the festival season fast approaching, we will soon be hitting peak falafel.

As a fest food it ticks all the boxes – veggie (tick) from abroad somewhere (tick) portable (tick) decent profit margin (tick) actually delicious (tickety tick).

I’m not quite sure when the falafel turned up to the party but seemingly overnight in the mid 90s, just as Britpop, Lads’ Mags and Lager were leaving in a taxi together.

No longer were festival goers forced to choose between greasy burger with cheese or greasy burger with onions – there was now a wonderful third way full of mystery and promise.

For the uninitiated, the falafel is a deep fried ball of mushed up chickpea, onion, parsley, garlic and various spices such as cumin, pepper and coriander.

The only downside is that these balls of yummy chickpea stuff are exceedingly difficult to balance on a paper plate unless stuck down with a glob of yoghurt.

Despite their carefree image, the origin of the humble falafel is as contested as the middle east region from whence it hails.

You will find falafel being sold at food stalls all over the middle east. The Israelis claim it as one of their national dishes, but the Palestinians claim that this is a form of cultural appropriation – laying claim to the chickpea based treat. Not to be left out, the Lebanese have thrown their hat in the ring as the originator, as have the Yemenis.

Theories are many and varied – and the truth is probably that everyone is a bit right. People must have been squishing together balls of food in the Middle East since the dawn of time.

There’s always someone willing to lay claim to a great idea as being their own and as a result, falafel origin stories are many and varied.

Some say that it was created in Egypt – although it was only mentioned in literature after the British Occupation in 1882. The theory goes that British officers, having acquired a taste for fried vegetable croquettes in India, may have asked their Egyptian cooks to come up with something similar using local ingredients. 

This would make sense, because if there’s one thing that invading Brits enjoy it’s asking for things to be deep fried – anything really. Oh and interfering in regional affairs before pulling out and leaving a power vacuum leading to generations of internal strife and warfare. 

Other theories are available.

Whatever the truth – there’s no point fighting about it, it’s just food. Everyone just relax.