A typical Egyptian food of surprisingly non-Egyptian origin: Taameya (Falafel)


Ask any Egyptian what the most typical national meal is and the prompt answer will most probably be: fuul medames and taameya.

Fuul medames and taameya

Fuul medames is stewed fava beans and taameya is small fried patties made of fava beans mixed with herbs.

Fuul medames has featured in the Egyptian cuisine for centuries and the fava bean itself has been cultivated in the country since ancient times.

But what might come as a surprise or ‘culture shock’ to many Egyptians for whom taameya is almost conceptually indivisible from fuul, is that around 300 years ago taameya did not even exist in Egypt.

Egyptian breakfast, fresh and delicious: fuul and taameya

Dr Habiba Hassan Wassef, a pioneering Egyptian nutrition expert and senior researcher at the National Research Center, writes that many foods generally considered to be “typical” Egyptian are in fact relative newcomers to the country’s millenniums-old cuisine. Among these is the taameya or ‘falafel’ transported  into Egypt from the Levant.

Falafel was first introduced into Egypt by immigrants from the regions of Lebanon and Syria. They mixed fava beans with parsley, cumin, coriander and other herbs and fried them in the shape of patties, giving them the ‘falafel’.

The Egyptian version of falafel was made of herbs and fava beans (as opposed to the chickpeas of hummus more typical of the Levant).

Falafel and hummus

It came to be known as taameya, which means small morsel of food.

Taameya is traditionally offered with pickled vegetables and tehina and eaten inside small pockets of ‘baladi’ (Egyptian wheat loaves), also known as pita bread.

Attesting to the continuing cosmopolitan nature of taameya, or falafel, is the fact that it is found in almost all Arab countries south and east of the Mediterranean, each with its own typical version.

Today, taameya has a “global outreach” and is sold in the shops of New York, Berlin and London by Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese and Turkish immigrants.

Taameya is a satisfying vegetarian meal. Although it is deep fried in oil, it retains good nutritional value in the form of vitamins, and of minerals such as potassium, magnesium and folate.

(photo: blogspot)

Here is the basic recipe for taameya, the Egyptian version of falafel, taken from ‘The Cairo Kitchen Cookbook’:

Soak 300 g dried fava beans overnight.

(photo: qassimy)

Blend together in a food processor the drained beans with 1 leek,1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, 3 tb fresh coriander, 3tb dill and 3 tb parsley.

Mix until all the ingredients are combined but not totally smooth.

Gradually add half a tsp cumin, half a tsp allspice, a tsp black pepper, 2 tsp salt and half a tsp bicarbonate of soda.

Mix for another two minutes.

Place the taameya paste in a large bowl and sprinkle 15g sesame seeds and dry coriander on top without mixing in.

Prepare vegetable oil in a deep frying pan and divide the dough into slightly flattened ball shapes around 5cm in diameter.

Fry the patties for 8-10 minutes in batches, turning once till golden brown.

Drain on paper towels.

Place the taameya in sliced baladi or pita bread.

Top with tomato, pickles and fresh greens.

Add a drizzle of tehina sauce and serve.