Falafel, Petah, Khoumus (1949)
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Fri Jun 14 05:26:09 UTC 2002
by Bernard M. Bloomfield
New York: Crown Publishers
Pg. 20 (March 31st, 1949): ...I bought a bagel* from a street vendor, who
displayed a pile of them on a stick.
*Doughnut-shaped bread with poppyseed sprinkled on it.
Pg. 20 (March 31st, 1949): From this evolved various types of settlements,
differing in social organization and methods of work. The most common of
_Kvutzah_--a collective agricultural settlement in which land, buildings, and
all basic property are owned jointly. The economic principal is that of one
_Kibbutz_--a collective farm in which the economy is based on industry as
well as agriculture. Members of the group share a common treasury and draw
from it in accordance with their needs.
_Moshav_--a small-holders' settlement in which families have individual homes
and land but operate co-operatively in working their fields, purchasing, and
Pg. 56 (April 8th, 1949): Then we called for Moshe Abrahami at his office,
and on to lunch atr an Oriental restaurant where we had shaslik, kebab, Arab
bread (petah), vegetables, fruit salad and Turkish coffee.
In Israel one gets an interesting assortment of European and Oriental
dishes. The restaurants get preference in supplies and variety, for they
have to cater to visitors. For the housewife, it is a lot tougher. SHe is
rationed and must queue up for things. Arab foods are quite different from
the diet we are accustomed to. They serve a preparation called _khoumus_,
made of seeds and oil, paprika and spices, and also _t'khina_, a sort of
paste of lima beans, spiced and flavored.
These dishes are placed in the center of the table. One eats of them by
dipping a piece of petah (about the size and shape of a large, flat, round
bun, or very thick pancake), scooping some up and then plopping it down one's
throat. This goes on, rather animatedly (depending on how hungry you are and
also on how many at the table are taking swipes at it!) until it is all gone.
Then the next course appears--shaslik and kebab. Shaslik are little meat
balls grilled on a metal spit about ten inches long, holding five or six
pieces. These are scraped off the spit, by one's fork or knife, onto the
plate and the spit put aside. These little balls are good and hard--or that
is, the ones I tasted were, and I suppose there is a certain way of getting
them as hard as possible.
Kebab is made of small hunks of meat (the Arabs eat mostly lamb), also
grilled on a spit. Then there are usually vegetables (Pg. 57--ed.) like
shredded lettuce and spring onions--depending on what happens to be in season
and available. After the meat course, the inevitable Turkish coffee in small
cups, perhaps some fruit salad, and the meal comes to an abrupt end.
Pg. 58 (April 8th, 1949): I must make some notations on the falafel which,
to Israel, is what the hot dog is to us. This creation is really something.
We first discovered falafel while waiting for a bus outside a little street
kiosk on a corner in Haifa. An eager customer approached and stolidly
intoned a single word, "falafel." Immediately the proprietor went to work
before our startled eyes. He first took a round, flat petah bread, about six
inches in diameter. This he deftly cut across in half. Then taking one of
the halves he made a pocket by opening the sides. Into this he inserted,
with a pair of tongs, several golden brown balls about the size of walnuts,
which had been fried in oil. The balls were made of chopped vegetables,
meal, and garlic. Over these he put chopped lettuce or cabbage and over this
a liquid sauce, something like mayonnaise in color. We noticed at this point
that the customer, who was taking in each detail of preparation with a
practiced eye, nodded his head in approval at the liberality of the amount of
sauce. Then, reaching under the counter, the boss took out a little bottle
of oil, or dripping of some sort, and added a few drops on the finished
article, with the deftness and aplomb of a Swiss chef placing a cherry on the
top of a cream pie. A paper napkin was placed under the falafel and handed
over to the customer, whose salivary glands by this time were working
furiously. In payment, 50 mills (15 cents) were handed over.
I asked the boss what it was he had just made and he told me it was a
"But what is falafel?" I asked.
He smiled. "Here, taste this." He gave me one of the little fried balls
which he took up with his tongs. I tasted it. It was spicy and not
unpleasant but left me more or less gastronomically unmoved.
"Do you sell a lot of falafels?" I asked.
"Oh sure. All day long."
At this point, another stolid intonation was heard behind us. "Falafel."
The boss immediately went into his routine. He had just gotten to the
point where the drops of oil were to be applied, when our bus arrived and we
Louis and I drove along speculating on the falafel and its origin, having
nothing more pressing to occupy our minds.
"How did it originate?" we wondered. "How did they come by the particular
combination of putting little fried balls in a half bun? What brain
conceived such a dish?" And then, once having become aware of the falafel's
existence, we noticed how, on all sides and at all times of the day, they
were being consumed by all sections of the population. It appears that the
great "secret" lies in the preparation of the little balls and each dispenser
of falafels keeps his formula a dark secret, passing it on to a trustworthy
son, prior to his last gasp on earth.
One becomes aware of falafels, if there is one within a radius of fifty
feet, by its characteristic aroma. They're like olives. You have to
cultivate a taste for them and having once done so, you are an addict.
_Savory falafel_! If only some enterprising outfit would really take it up,
standardize and glofiy it like the hot dog! We visualized factories
springing up and dotting the land, all busy producing falafel balls and
falafel juice. Just think, they could can and bottle them, pack them in
export cases and ship them all over the world!
As our bus rolled along, our imaginations soared to even greater heights,
and the following ideas developed: (1) That the Government create a Ministry
of Falafelach. (2) That a chair be endowed at the Hebrew University on
(3) That a company be incorporated under Israeli laws called "National
Falafel Corporation Ltd." for manufacture, idestribution, and promotion of
the falafel. (4) That the Weizmann Institute at Rehovoth immediately turn
its best brains loose on the problem of synthesizing the falafel. (5) That a
National Falafel Day be proclaimed in Israel, as a legal holiday, culminating
in the election of "Miss Falafel."
(Miss Falafel? With balls??...OED has 1951 for "felafel"--ed.)
Pg. 108 (April 21st, 1949): Avram and I again got to "l'chaiming"* each
other, and all and sundry, with brandies.
Pg. 171 (May 9th, 1949): We returned to Tel Aviv early and went for a stroll
along the sea wall. Baruch told us that there is a new variation to V.I.P.
(very important person). It is V.I.P.I. (very important person indeed!).
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