Street Food Focus: Falafel

By: Melaina Gasbarrino

The falafel is a delicious Middle Eastern dish that is made from chickpeas or fava beans and a plethora of spices. It is a favorite among vegetarians who are looking to taste some deep fried goodness. The ingredients for the falafel are mixed together then deep-fried in balls or patties. Though it may not seem like every persons dream to eat a falafel, when topped with Tahini sauce or in a pita, the falafel is a thing of sheer perfection.

With pop-up shops taking over New York City it is no wonder falafels are being added to the mix of delicious quick street food carts readily available throughout the city. The falafel is certainly a healthy rendition as to what street food is all about and if finding a way on many top 10 lists around the city. Mademan.com has created a "Top 10 Best Falafel Carts in NYC" list where you can certainly pick and choose which falafel stand fits your fancy. The list includes popular falafel walk-up spots throughout New York and provides some insight into why they certainly are the best. Here are a few falafel shops and street food vendors we deem as the very best.

Tiam Mobile: At Tiam Mobile you'll find every falafel lovers dream with a twist. Not only does this pop-up shop serve tasty falafel dishes ranging from sandwiches to platters but adds a little bit of uniqueness to the menu with a range of summer-fresh smoothies. Ranging from $3.50 to $10 the popup shop can be found along the streets of the Highline.

Sam's Falafel Stand: With a plethora of falafel dishes this street food stand offers cheap, filling meals that will have you coming back for more. The falafel sandwich is filled to the brim with a whole lot of Middle Eastern inspired goodness. This vendor can be found at Cedar Street.

Global Street Food Pop-Up is open for a week in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center for a taste of international comfort food. We are offering a Fish Falafel dish that will blow your mind.

Trust me, your taste buds will thank you after finding a street food vendor and trying falafel for the first time! For a great basic falafel recipe, check out Food Republic's recipe here.

Photos: Robyn Lee

Rabat, Morocco

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Street food By Marcus Samuelsson

Falafel is one of my favorite foods. It is so delicious, you forget it contains a lot of healthy stuff. There is carbohydrates in the pita, proteins in the falafel dumplings, lots of Vitamin A and healthy fats in the tahini, and I always fill mine up with a lot of salad round of the nutritional impact.

When I planning my trip to Rabat, I was keen to try a lot of falafel. I have found that not only does each vendors falafel taste different, buy every customer likes it mixed differently. But what a surprise Rabat turned out to be. I've had my best street food dinners there. At 9pm, it's like the whole city is at a delicious diner party. The streets fill up with the fragrance of spices - cumin, preserved lemons, cilantro, paprika, onions, saffron.

So there is no end to the delicious foods you can have in the mny medina is the city. Enter the market, and you smell someone making chicken and olive tagine, another stall making fresh flatbreads, and someone else wrapping piping hot and richly spiced merguez sausages to go.

Morocco's street food reflects its diversity from being on the crossroads of human history and spice routes. Sitting on the edge of both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, visiting Morocco is like taking a world tour of Eurasian flavors and aromas. Rabat is on the coast of the Atlantic and offers a full gamut of food from both continents. I love cities that have been melting pots in the past, or continue to be. You can read their history through your stomach.

If you like olives, Rabat has more varieties, and more methods of curing and spicing them than any farmer's market in the Western world. Keep this in mind when you eat in Rabat. Sample the fried fish with a tomato chutney, cooked snails, grilled meat, fresh fruits and vegetables that you may not recognize instantly, but will love. Vegans and carnivores are all likely to find more food than they can handle here.

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The battle over who may rightfully claim falafel as their own

I love the food of Egypt, and one of my favorite foods from the region is falafel. Falafel, however, is embroiled in a long running controversy of its own -where did it originally come from? Israel, Palestine, and Egypt all consider falafel, fried chickpea balls, their individual invention. In his book Beans: a history, Ken Albala writes that "the battle over who may rightfully claim falafel as their own-Palestinians or Israelis-shows that something as simple as a fried ball of mashed chickpeas can be invested with deep political sentiments." Falafel is a truly delicious food, crispy and packed with spice. For these countries though, falafel is "a matter of national pride."

One popular origin story tells of how Christian Copts in Egypt ate falafel, because they could not eat meat during Lent. According to Yael Raviv in his essay "Falafel: A National Icon," falafel is actually often made from fava beans in Egypt. Only when falafel migrated to other Middle Eastern states did chickpeas begin to appear in the recipe. After centuries of evolution, falafel has become a key aspect of both Arab and Israeli culture.

Despite it controversial beginnings, falafel is an undeniably tasty snack. I even serve it with a tomato dipping sauce.

Cultural Tuesdays with Debora Mordkowski: Sabich, An Iraqi-style Brunch Sandwich

We've all heard of the typical Middle Eastern spread: vegetable salads, taboule, hummus, and spicy dips. But, Iraqis use fried eggplant. And, that my friends, is a feast for the palate! So, next time you make brunch give your eggs a twist and turn them into Sabich, an Iraqi-style sandwich that makes for a hearty and exotic mid-day meal. It all started one hot summer day in Tel Aviv, Israel many years ago. My friend Dana and I were at the beauty parlor doing our hair and makeup before her wedding later that evening. Between cuts and dries our stomachs started growling by lunchtime. Hungry, I glanced over at a falafel stand across the street, grabbed my wallet, and as I headed out Dana shouted: "Get us Sabich instead of falafel." With that, I crossed the street trying to remember the word Sabich. Once on the other side, I entered a small store where a middle-aged man stood behind a counter full of salads, from hummus and tahini to spicy carrot and purple cabbage. As soon as I ordered a Sabich, he smiled and showed me a pan with fried eggplants, which he stuffed into a pita. After that he pealed a hard-boiled egg and put it inside together with hummus and tomato cucumber salad.

Biting into that sandwich transported me from the hair salon to an exotic location. The eggplant soaked in olive oil was soft, juicy and full of flavor. And, mixed with the hummus, it melted away all the wedding stress. The egg in the middle was a very nice and consistent surprise. All in all, it was an unforgettable soft, creamy and crispy lunch on a pita!

It was later that I learned that the Sabich is an Iraqi specialty brought to Israel by Iraqis who immigrated during the early years of the young state. Jews in Iraq used to prepare and eat this dish every Saturday. In fact, the root of the word Sabich resembles that of 'sabah,' which means morning in Arabic.

So, go buy some eggplants, hummus and pita and treat yourself to an exotic, yet homey brunch next weekend! If you are having friends over, you may want to try a wrap variation. Roll fried eggplant, hummus, egg and tomato slices on a wrap, and cut it up for an easy to grab 'finger food Sabich'. Enjoy!