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Falafel is a deep fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans. Falafel is usually served in a pita, which acts as a pocket, or wrapped in a flatbread known as lafa. The falafel balls are topped with salads, pickled vegetables, hot sauce, and drizzled with tahini-based sauces. Falafel balls may also be eaten alone as a snack or served as part of a meze.

Generally accepted to have first been made in Egypt, falafel has become a dish eaten throughout the Middle East. Falafel is also often considered a national dish of Israel. The Copts of Egypt claim to have first made the dish as a replacement for meat during Lent. The hearty fritters are now found around the world as a replacement for meat and as a form of street food.

The word falafel can refer to the fritters themselves or to sandwiches filled with them. The Arabic word فلافل (falāfil) is the plural of فلفل (filfil) which means "hot pepper" and is also an adjective denoting "something fluffy". The word has now spread to the rest of the world.

Falafel is known as ta'amiya (Arabic: طعمية‎ [tˤaʕˈmijːa]) in Egypt, with the exception of Alexandria, as well as in Sudan. The word is derived from a diminutive form of the Arabic word طعام ṭaʻām, "food"; the particular form indicates "a unit" of the given root (in this case ط ع م, having to do with taste and food), thus meaning "a little piece of food" or "small tasty thing".

The origin of falafel is unknown and controversial. A common theory is that the dish originated in Egypt, possibly eaten by Copts as a replacement for meat during Lent. As Alexandria is a port city, it was possible to export the dish and name to other areas in the Middle East. The dish later migrated northwards to the Levant, where chickpeas replaced the fava. It has also been theorized to a lesser extent that falafel originated during Egypt's Pharaonic Period or in the Indian subcontinent.

Middle East

Falafel grew to become a common form of street food or fast food in the Middle East. The croquettes are regularly eaten as part of meze. During Ramadan, falafel balls are sometimes eaten as part of the iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast after sunset. Falafel became so popular that McDonald's now serves a "McFalafel" in some countries. It is still popular with the Copts, who cook large volumes during religious holidays. Debates over the origin of falafel have sometimes devolved into political discussions about the relationship between Arabs and Israelis.

On May 9, 2010, in Beirut, more than 300 Lebanese chefs prepared 5,173 kilograms (11,400 lb) of falafel mixture. A Guinness World Records representative was present to record the feat. On May 21, 2010, an Israeli chef in New York set a world record for the largest falafel ball, weighing in at 10.9 kilograms (24 lb) and with a circumference of more than a meter (3.3 ft). It was reported the ball is expected to enter the Guinness Book of World Records. This record was broken by a 52.8 pound falafel made by chefs at the Santa Clarita Jewish Festival on May 15, 2011. It was certified on site at 5pm for submission to the Guinness Book of World Records.

North America

During the 20th century, falafel was generally known only by individuals who frequented restaurants in Middle Eastern and Jewish neighborhoods and by vegans, who used it as a meat analogue. However the dish has become a common street food in many cities throughout North America, and U.S. college students readily enjoy falafel wraps as they do other fast foods like pizza.

Falafel has become popular among vegetarians and with those in the vegan movement, where it is celebrated as an alternative to meat-laden street foods, and is now sold in prepackaged mixes in health-food stores. While traditionally thought of as being used to make veggie burgers, its use has expanded as more and more people have adopted it as a source of protein. A versatile ingredient, it has allowed for the reformulating of recipes for meat loaf, sloppy joes and spaghetti and meatballs into vegetarian dishes.

Today, falafel is eaten all over the world.

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