I suppose the issue of food itself is very complicated as it can’t be considered only a substance that people eat in order to maintain life. Instead, it’s a basis for national identity that has a great impact on the cultural features of a certain society. In the course of development, any nation adjusts its consuming habits to the peculiarities of the region and, as a result, some types of food turn out to be more relevant than others.

This, in turn, leads to the situation when a certain type of food becomes associated with a particular geographic location as well as with people who live there.

Such type of food is called authentic or traditional. However, there are many examples when a certain dish was invented in one geographical territory but later became a national and traditional element of the society that lived in a completely different area. Believe it or not, but it’s all about falafel.

Falafel and its history

So, what is falafel itself? It’s a famous variation of fast food. It’s a fried ball, patty, or doughnut made from ground fava beans or chickpeas and commonly served in a pita with various salads, pickled vegetables, and/or sauces.

The history of falafel is debatable, as scholars do not have a unified opinion concerning who invented it and when it really happened. However, a universal thought is that it was invented in Egypt by Coptic Christians who weren’t allowed to consume meat during certain religious holidays and were forced to substitute it with something nutritious and cheap.

In this regard, falafel made of ground fava beans fully met the requirements of that society.

At the same time, scholars cannot answer the question on when it was invented. Some of them state that it happened many hundreds of years ago while others claim that it is simply impossible. This is because the cooking process of falafel requires frying in a huge amount of cooking oil that at all times was very expensive and only in the twentieth century did its price decrease significantly.

In this respect, even if Copts invented this dish many centuries ago, its recipe was definitely different. Therefore, many scholars have come to the conclusion that even if falafel was invented by Egyptian Copts, its history line is not as long as one may think. Nowadays, falafel is popular in Egypt, Palestine, and even the U.S.

At the same time, falafel is now playing an iconic role in Israel specifically and despite the fact that it is not of Jewish origin, this dish in that country is considered national and, furthermore, authentic.

Non-Jewish by origin but authentic in Israel, how did it come about?

Well, let’s begin with the fact that the history of falafel in Israel started long before the creation of the state. It was adopted by early Jewish immigrants to Palestine and, moreover, this dish was popular among the representatives of the Zionist movement, who aimed to re-create Israel in primordially Jewish territories.

After the success of the Zionist movement in the middle of the twentieth century, the popularity of falafel increased significantly.

The key reason for this state of affairs was the low cost of the dish and the availability of domestic ingredients. However, being popular had nothing in common with being authentic in those times, as the Jewish population considered this dish to be Arabic by origin.

At the same time, after the Independence War in 1948, everything related to the Arabic world acquired negative associations and falafel was not an exception. Consequently, in order to continue the consumption of falafel, Israeli people had no choice but to change the cooking technique of this dish to prove that the old recipe was dangerous – much like the entire Arabic world.

In this respect, it was proven that ground fava beans could lead to anemia and had a negative impact on health and, for that reason, they were replaced by chickpeas.

In addition, after independence, in 1949, the country faced a severe economic downturn and the government restricted the consumption of meat.

Scholars state that cultural necessity to change the recipe together with the economic downturn contributed to the authenticity of falafel as it was no longer possible for Israeli people to take this dish for granted but to search for unique national cooking peculiarities and uphold it as a prized product.

Collectivism and intolerance of bourgeoisie

Scholars argue that Israeli people of the 1950s can be characterized by two significant features – consideration of collective identity above personal identity and intolerance of anything that was connected with the bourgeoisie.

It should be noted that these cultural features definitely have much in common with falafel. When looking at deep-fried balls cooked at different locations, one may consider them to be the same. However, when looking inside falafel, it becomes clear that each and every ball has different content that is based on the personal preferences of the cook.

This is evidence of the fact that Israeli people do not disregard individualism but only consider collectivism a driving force for the permanent growth and development. For that reason, falafel may look the same but taste different.

In addition, intolerance of the bourgeoisie can be observed in consuming peculiarities. One of the key distinctive features of the bourgeois way of life is the fact that its representatives prefer cooking and eating at home but not in public.

Consequently, in order not to be associated with this way of living, falafel was served in public from carts without any sitting places – a key peculiarity of a contemporary form of street food. So, we can see now that falafel managed to become authentic Israeli dish because Jewish people established a strong link between this variation of fast food and cultural peculiarities of the nation.

Furthermore, the situation with falafel proves that the place of the invention may not contribute to the authenticity of the dish as Egyptians (genuine inventors) do not consider falafel to be authentic.