The Travel Writer as Lifestyle Coach: Eat, Drink and Be Merry

fakafel.By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

At CNN, Octavia Nasr, who is Senior Editor for Middle East Affairs, recently embarked on a serious mission: a hunt for the holy grail of the perfect falafel. The vegetarian sandwich is a staple throughout that part of the world. Ahead of the curve as always, we didn’t even need Ms. Nasr’s take on it. We already knew that the best falafel in the world is to be had in Beirut, Lebanon, at a place called Sayoun’s (which is actually glimpsed for a moment in the CNN video clip.) How did we know? Because we learned this important fact from one of the essays in The Third Tower Up From the Road, and these are the words to heed:

Sayoun’s is on Damascus Road, just up from Martyr’s Square. If it weren’t for the crowd of hungry people hanging around outside, it could be easily missedā€¦ The entire shop-all 10 square meters of it-is constantly full of customers, night and day.

For the benefit of the unworldly, Kevin explains falafel as something like a meatball, only lighter, because it’s made from ground fava beans or ground chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans), or both. So the round or oval blobs of compacted beans are deep-fried and encased in bread, along with tomatoes, radish slices, parsley and mint. Anoint with hot sauce, or not, as the palate dictates. Sayoun’s also offers a garnish of green hot peppers on the side. No wonder the place has been in business since 1935!

Falafel mania has spawned such spinoffs as a movie , an online game, the McFalafel, and even the construction of falafel stands in the virtual world Second Life (see picture). At igoogledisrael.com, British expatriate Ashley, who left his native shores for Israel 18 years ago and stayed, shares some other falafel-related links he has collected.

Falafel is recognized as a signature ethnic food, but which ethnicity? The humble sandwich has touched off political strife and even religious controversy, as various parties make their claims of invention, superiority and proprietorship. Keeping an eye on Pakistan, Rudi Stettner recently reported that in some neighborhoods, falafel vendors were “ordered to stop selling falafel because it did not exist in the time of Mohammed.” That’s harsh!

The Cannabis Cookbook shares a falafel recipe that starts with a couple of cups of freshly ground hemp seeds, which are, after all, one of the most nutritious things a person can eat. Where else can you get such easily digestible complete protein, plus all the essential amino acids, plus the good kind of fatty acids (immune system helpers!) in one delicious package?

The Forbes organization, which never does anything halfway, asked Lauren Sherman to report on a recent survey of 10,000 people from 20 countries. They were given 50 cities to pick from, and asked, “Where’s the best eats?” Well, it was phrased a little more elegantly, but the top 5 world cuisine capitals are Paris, London, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Barcelona. Sherman, who is very alert to the nuances of the good life, explains all the ins and outs of a lengthy and comprehensive report from the 2009 Anholt-GfK Roper City Brands Index.

Mark your calendar for the second week of October, when Bangkok will host the 10th Annual World Gourmet Festival , and take along Out magazine’s reference work, “The Sixty Greatest Gay Bars in the World.” As for the “be merry” part, who is merrier than a musician? Who is sadder than a musician who forgets to bring along the right equipment? Before taking your instrument on a trip, check out “Essential Gear for the Traveling Musician” by Michelle Schusterman, who is a percussionist, aspiring novelist, and teacher of English as a Second Language in South Korea. And stay merry by stowing in your kit some, if not all, of “The Frugal Traveler’s Top Travel Gadgets” as recommended in The New York Times by Matt Gross, in an article which has so far garnered 423 comments.

At the risk of starting some controversy of our own, we invite your input on the World’s Best Falafel question.

photo courtesy of Jamiecat*, used under this Creative Commons license

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