Thursday, January 29, 2015

Making "Fawaffles": An Experiment with Arab and American Cultural Identity

Last week, I ran across this post from the blog Food Republic, describing a collision of two of my favorite foods:  waffles and falafels.   

Enter the fawaffle.  


Really?  Fawaffle?  Make falafels in your waffle iron?  

I jumped right up on my soapbox, and began to mentally enumerate all of the ways that this dish was just.  plain. wrong.  Leave it to Americans, I thought to myself, to take a perfectly good falafel and squish it into a waffle iron.  Always innovating.  Always trying to change things up.  Always trying to improve on perfection.   


But.  I kinda wanted to do it.  My leftover falafel mix in the fridge beckoned me.  It would be so easy, I thought, so fast.  And who knows?  Maybe it will also taste all right.  Even if it doesn't, won't it be fun?

I walked around the house for a while, taking care of this and that, and listened to the two competing voices in my head.  One voice, calling for tradition and authenticity.  The other voice, calling for playful innovation.  And as I listened, I really heard these two voices clearly, maybe for the first time.  One, the collective voice of the neighbors, relatives and friends from my childhood in Palestine, extolling the virtue of authenticity, the beauty of tradition, vying between them to produce the best versions of classic dishes, laughing at strange variations. The other voice a quieter one, Western and pragmatic, but just as compelling.  It just shrugged and said, seductively:  what if it's great?  

What if?

I can't believe I'm about to do this.  

Really?  Am I *really* going to do this?   

Time for a taste test.  

Waffles need syrup.  Therefore, fawaffles need tahini-lemon sauce.  

The Taste Test:  

I hate to admit this, but . . .  right off of the waffle grill, these babies were pretty good.   The scent of freshly-fried falafels filled my kitchen enticingly, and when I bit into my first "fawaffle," I was impressed by how evenly they were cooked through, which is the virtue, I suppose, of using a waffle iron. The crimped shape gave plenty of surface area for the crispy exterior, and the inside was still a little soft.  A drizzle of tahini-lemon sauce made them even better.  I was quite charmed.

After they cooled down, though, it was a different story.  The magic of the fawaffle was gone.  The genius of a great falafel is in the contrasting textures:  the crunchy, crispy shell with a soft, fluffy middle.  The "fawaffles" quickly lost their outer crispiness and became tasteless cardboardy abominations.  I threw them out.

The Verdict:

I wondered, would I make them again?  Probably not, I thought, as I cleaned bits of hardened falafel out of my waffle iron, and laughed.  My ancestors got it right.  Falafels are for frying.

And yet.

I stood over the kitchen sick, with dripping hands and a strange new feeling.  Was it liberation?  Honesty?  Sauciness?  Rebellion?  Shame?  Am I allowed to take something from one of my heritages and crush it into the shape of the other?  I had a sense that I had broken a rule, an unspoken rule that an Arab would never do this, and that by breaking the rule, my cultural confusion was exposed.  Is this a bright line - the line between someone inside and someone outside of a culture?

Maybe.  Or maybe this was the most Arab-American dish I have ever made.  Maybe this shows my cards.  Maybe just attempting it shows my cards.  But here's the thing about being a third-culture-kid, about being from more than one place.  You always have more cards than you show.  And maybe, just maybe, the only way to truly be at home is for you to occasionally, just occasionally, throw down your whole hand.

Related Posts:

*Am I a "Beginner Arab" and Other Questions of Cultural Identity

*Palestinian Chickpea Fritters, of Falafel

*How to Make Really (Smooth) Authentic Hummus

*Tahini-Lemon Sauce


  1. this is a great idea. I have been baking my falafel for a while. this would be simpler. I am not sure I would want to use my belgian waffle iron, it may retain the falafel odors, but I think I am going to find a similar cheaper gadget. I love your blog and your recipes,


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