Like barbecue and pizza, falafels are prepared differently in various countries. Unfortunately, many people believe falafels are the same throughout the Middle East — that broad expanse of countries banded together by a geopolitical designation, not an agricultural and, hence, culinary grouping.
I know of no other regional cuisines that have been lumped together on that basis. Why is Moroccan cuisine not classified as North African? Why is it jumbled together with Afghan and Lebanese? That is simply ridiculous. We would not interchange French and Italian cuisines simple because they are European — and those are neighboring countries. While Charlotte's Latino restaurants have a similar identity problem — customers wanting Mexican food in a Colombian restaurant — at least these establishments have enough expats here who know the difference and support the individual culinary offerings.
Falafels are one of the quintessential street foods found in the eastern elbow of the Mediterranean. When I lived in Cairo, I often stopped at falafel vendors to get my fix. In Egypt, these fast food fried treats are called taameya and are made from ground fava beans — not garbanzo beans as they are in Israeli/Palestinian falafels, or the fava and garbanzo mix found in Lebanon.
Taameya has a green interior — not yellowish beige — and is rolled in sesame and coriander seeds. Taameya is an ancient food. Fava plants were sketched on the walls of the Pharaonic tombs and it is known that Egypt's Coptic Christian community (one of the first outposts of Christianity) substituted falafels for meat during Lent almost 2000 years ago. Like the falafels of neighboring states, freshly fried taameya is popped into a half pita and then bathed in tahini sauce.
Last November, Effat and Saffy Effat opened Mena's Grill (1544 Matthews Mint Hill Road, Unit G, Matthews; 980-339-8478; www.menasgrill.com), a takeout-only, bare bones outpost of some Egyptian foods. You can find Egyptian falafels here ($2.99). If you miss — or want to try — other Egyptian treats, Saffy will make those as a special order.
Looking for a food you can't find? Or do you know of other food items unique to the QC? Whether it's regional foods or international, talk to me: email@example.com or 704-522-8334, extension 136.