Hebrew Language Blog

Falafel: the Unofficial National Food of Israel Posted by on Jan 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

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The diverse Israeli cuisine comprises both local dishes and dishes brought to Israel by Jews from the Diaspora. A variety of flavors, ingredients and countries create a plentiful cuisine, but only one dish is considered to be the national food of Israel: falafel (פָלָאפֶל).

Falafel is a deep-fried ball made from ground chickpeas (חוּמוּס), herbs and spices. It’s a very common street food, served in a pita bread (פִּיתָּה), with a selection of salads (vegetable, cabbage and pickles), a selection of dips (tahini, hummus and amba), and French fries. And for those who eat spicy, there is also zhug to add.

As many other Israeli dishes, even the unofficial national dish wasn’t originated in Israel. The following video tells the history of the falafel, who arrived in Israel from Egypt. As a cheap (זוֹל) and an easy-to-prepare dish it gained popularity very fast, especially during Israel Israel’s difficult first years. Another advantage is the fact that falafel is a vegan food and contains no milk. Hence it is kosher Parve, and can be served or be eaten with diary and meat food.

Many falafel stalls opened throughout the country during its first decade. The popular dish started to appear in Hebrew cooking books and was even mentioned in songs and skits. A famous Israeli song from the 50’s, called שׁׅיר הַפָלָאפֶל (the falafel song), crowns the falafel as the national dish:

לְכָל מְדִינָה כָּאן בַּעוֺלָם, מַאֲכָל לְאֻמִּי הַמוּכָּר לְכּוּלָם… וְלָנוּ יֵשׁ פָלָאפֶל, פָלָאפֶל, פָלָאפֶל

Every country in the world has a national dish that everyone knows … and we have falafel, falafel, falafel

Listen to the joyful humorist song:

Falafel has remained a cheap, filling (מַשְׂבִּיעַ) fast food. Without compromising on the taste (טַעַם) – falafel is delicious (טָעִים) – it’s something that you can eat for less than 30 NIS, including drink, and be full. The Israeli falafel is different from the falafel of our neighboring countries: it is made from ground chickpeas , served in pita, with pickles and European French fries. Some falafel stalls have their own creative variations. Falafel Baribua is a chain of falafel restaurants (מִסְעָדָה) which serves square (מְרֻבָּע) falafel instead of the traditional balls. Another small falafel restaurant called The Magician serves tempura fried eggplant on top of every dish. The next video compares the new trendy magician falafel in Tel-Aviv to an old small falafel place in Haifa called The Olds, which hasn’t change since its establishment in 1950:

If it’s your first time trying the national dish of Israel, you don’t have to buy a whole pita. There are two sizes: מָנָה and חֲצִי מָנָה, literally means dish and half a dish, and refers to a whole pita and half a pita. If you are not that hungry ask the seller for חֲצִי מָנָה. He will slice the pita in half and fill one of them with falafel and the side-dishes you crave. If you aren’t specific about the size you want, the seller will automatically prepare a whole מָנָה for you, which is what most Israelis order. Another option is to buy falafel only, without pita. Ask the seller for falafel balls (כַּדּוּרֵי פָלָאפֶל) and he will serve you hot falafel balls on a plate, or in a paper bag.

Kiryat Shmona, Israel’s northernmost city, was targeted for rocket-fire cross-border attacks from Lebanon for many years. As such, the city has been the focus of political attention for many years. Politicians who came to the city used to eat falafel at Amar’s. In the next video Amar tells about the politician who prepared the dish himself, and the politician who ordered falafel on a plate:


Text vocabulary

Falafel = פָלָאפֶל

Falafel balls = כַּדּוּרֵי פָלָאפֶל

Chickpeas = חוּמוּס

Pita bread = פִּיתָּה

Cheap = זוֹל

Filling = מַשְׂבִּיעַ

Taste = טַעַם

Delicious = טָעִים

Food = אֹכֶל, מָזוֹן מַאֲכָל,

National =  לְאֻמִּי

National food = מַאֲכָל לְאֻמִּי

Restaurant = מִסְעָדָה

Square = מְרֻבָּע

Dish = מָנָה

Half a dish = חֲצִי מָנָה

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