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Inside the Israeli Pita

Falafel, an ancient dish from Egypt, found itself in our era in the middle of this civilization collision mess. If only all other outcomes of cultural conflicts were so tasteful.

I’m afraid we are all living in what that famous Chinese saying calls “interesting times”. And it’s most certainly too interesting here, in Israel.

Even if you follow the news, you probably don’t get the full picture. It is complicated, and I’m really here to write about food, so I’ll say just that: both us Israelis and our Palestinians brothers, are good people with lousy leaders.

But well, I’m here to tell you about the complexity of the Israeli pita bread, so lets get down to it.

The Melting Pot

The state of Israel was established with the concept of “Melting Pot” in mind. Being so heterogeneous, ethnically and culturally, it’s population had to loose some of it’s diversity in order to adopt some common denominators – or so our leadership seemed to think.

It failed of course, and 60 years later Israel is still laden with inner conflicts. But we do share some levantine passions, mostly around foods. Israelis or Palestinians, Jewish or Muslim (or Christian), secular or religious – most everybody ’round here just love hummus, falafel and pita.

Sadly, most Israelis do not know many other Arab foods, but some do. And true, some people here call these foods “Mizrahi”, Middle-Eastern, which some Arab people feel is a way of taking the credit from the magnificent Arab Cuisine. But the truth is that these foods are already an integral part of our common self-identity.


Falafel in a Pita

Going into the Pita
The pocket pita bread, now on every table in the middle-east, is a relatively new invention. Traditional Arab breads was flat too, but they weren’t hollow. Contrary to the serene eating of hummus, sited down, it was falafel – quickly packed in a pita bread, in a rush – which was chosen as this country’s national food. Goes better with the temperament, I guess.

Falafel is easy to make (recipe), it’s ingredients are very basic and cheep, and so the poor yet delicious “falafel portion” easily became more than just a popular fast food – it became something everybody eats. This happened many years before the establishment of this state and hadn’t changed since.

Inside the Pita
The Israeli pita turned out to be very susceptive. Alongside the falafel burgers, vegetable salad and tahini, some additions brought from the diaspora quickly emerged, and made it into a multi-culti fusion dish, with various influences.

The pita will usually contain some potato chips (an American invention, contrary to the common myth). It sometimes has pickled cabbage (East-European) in it or Iraqi style pickled vegetables, or just plain pickles. Oftentimes it is spiced with red Zhuk (Yamanite hot-pepper sauce), and sometimes with Ambah (scary looking Iraqi orange sauce. Odious but tastes good).

The falafel itself comes from Egypt, and the best sesame (for the tahini) comes from Uganda for as long as anybody can remember.

So ironically, the Israeli pita serves as this melting pot, combining the different ingredients into something colorful, exciting, tasteful and highly contagious – judging from the worldwide success of the concept. If only our life here in the middle-east were more like that pita.

6 Comments on Inside the Israeli Pita

  1. The Pita can contain absolutely anything, from different parts of the world.
    Will there be a post about the Lafa? It can contain even more…

  2. The Lafa is scehudled for later this year ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. oh that falafel looks SO good! i recently made up a recipe for chickpea burgers just so i’d feel like i was eating more falafel without feeling TOO bad about it!

  4. I came looking for a falafel recipe. Thanks for the find. Now I’d like to contribute. I noticed no Pita recipes yet (in spite of an array of other very good/interesting recipes). I had a very brief stay at a kibbutz many years ago where I listened to a woman tell me that pita is pan cooked, not oven baked. Later, I saw pitas baking on a conveyor belt. A couple of years later I happened across a bag from that bakery. I looked at the list of ingredients and, mixed with a few seemingly unrelated experiences, it all fell into place. If you’re interested, the go to . We haven’t purchased pita in about 13 years. We have fresh pita at least, about, twice a week It’s easy when you get used to it!

  5. I love your blog. The pita looks sooo delicious ๐Ÿ™‚

    The pita or the “pocket” pita bread is difficult to impossible to find
    in arabic countries ! You can find some delicious specialty breads
    in some restaurants but in the majority of restaurants and street stalls
    the bread is normally flat,thin, and very disappointing .

    This goes to restaurants in Lebanon,Syria,Jordan and Egypt .

    As for Falafel : in Egypt it’s called “TA’AMIYE” and made out of full-beans .
    The taste is totally different .

    On one of my first visits to Egypt I complained to someone in the street about the fact you can’t eat Hummus , he countered ” offcourse you can ” to which I immediately inquired – where ?
    Very close to the American University he said . And the place is called: ” Beit Zahat ”
    I asked again to be sure I got the name right , and next morning asked the reception clerk in my hotel(located very close to the University) who said :
    Beitza Hut – it’s in the same block as our hotel ! Excitedly I took directions – which elevator to use as that building was both huge and ancient and off I went to find the promised Hummus only to disover that “Beit Zahat” was actually
    Pizza Hut … excellent pizza and free parmezan(unlike in Israel!) but no Hummus ๐Ÿ™

  6. That falafel you’re holding looks like Gina’s… could it be be?
    I think Gina’s is the holy grail of both pita and falafel. The bread is moist and tasty, the falafel is big, crispy and full of flavor. The moment you step in, you are greeted you a one those glorious balls of falafel on a toothpick, topped with a little tehina and parsley, just to get you salivary glands started… and boy do they get started! I
    have been trying to replicate that pita bread for quite some time, without much success. Still trying!
    Keep up the good work! Cheers!

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