Friday, May 17, 2013

The war over “Falafel”

A big dispute broke out a few years ago between Lebanon and Israel over who invented the “Falafel”. Coming from Egypt, where it’s a popular street food, the origin of Falafel has never been questionable to me. It wasn't until I went to Paris this year that I realized how profound this “food war” is. It was in Paris that I came across France’s most famous Falafel joint; surprisingly it had a Hebrew name and a probable Israeli ownership.
You might dismiss this as a mere exaggeration, but Falafel is not just a delicious fried patty. It’s part of our identity. Culinary culture provides an insight into a broader social and economic scene. Food is probably one of the simplest ways to identify a culture. Mention pizza and everyone can think of Italy. Sushi and people are most likely drawn to the Far East. Say Feta and every one will think of Greece. Speaking about Feta; actually the Athenians have managed to prove that they invented Feta. Building on the “Feta cheese precedent”, the Lebanese Trade Union, is planning to sue Israel for claiming propriety over traditional Arab cuisine.
You are not still convinced with the importance of this food war? Guess what Barack Obama had as breakfast during his latest visit to Jerusalem? Yes, it’s Falafel! The Israeli protocol specialists chose the meal themselves and it was prepared by the American chef Magi Tolly. Was that a coincidence? I doubt.
So, what is the origin of Falafel anyway? It is widely believed that Falafel originated in Egypt where the Egyptian Copts invented it as a meat-free dish they can eat during the “big fasting” and from there it has traveled to other countries.
To me, it doesn't matter whether Falafel originated in Egypt or Lebanon. What matters to me is that it’s part of our Arabic heritage and identity. Standing by Lebanon in its fight for the “copyright” of the Falafel is not just an expression of my admiration of these delicious fried balls; it’s one of the ways of clinging to our identity. If we dismiss this war over the Falafel as a ridiculous act, we might end up with nothing to fight for and might just as well dissolve, for without our identity….. we no longer exist.

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