Ful, not full, falafel’s less popular cousin, is a Middle Eastern fava bean dish popular throughout the region. In Egypt, specifically, the ful reigns supreme as a primary and undisputed king of Egyptian street food.
Although numerous variations of ful are known to exist, the most popular is the ful medammis served at breakfast in sandwich form. Fava beans (sometimes called broad beans) are stewed overnight, then mashed and mixed with olive oil, chopped parsley, onion, garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice, then stuffed into freshly baked, piping hot pitas. The texture is somewhat like hummus but the flavor is earthier, with the umami characteristics you love about meat sandwiches. Like many ethnic favorites, ful is always better at home, but Egyptian mainstay El Shabrawy comes pretty close to the real deal. The chain has been around forever, and serves a range of local fare from killer falafel (or taamiya, as the patties are called in local Egyptian dialect) to shawarma. But the real star, or perhaps stars, are the whopping 14 variations of ful sandwich. From the classic ful with olive oil all the way to the dynamite, a killer combination of ful, falafel, babaganoush, eggs and potatoes all squashed and rolled into a paper-thin pita the size of two jumbo pizza slices, El Shabrawi does not disappoint. Clearly, not everything good comes in small packages.
On top of that, not everything mouthwateringly delicious will burn a whole in your wallet. For pocket change (literally, a few cents) you can pick up a couple of fresh ful sandwiches that are both delicious and extremely nutritious. The beans are low in fat and rich in protein, iron and fiber. The classic ful sandwich is also vegan. I know what you’re thinking, vegan and delicious seems like an oxymoron, but not in this case. No fake seitan tofurky with soy cream froth here, just tasty, cheap, filling grub that dates back to the Pharaohs, when Ramses III offered 11,998 jars of fava beans to the god of the Nile. I imagine they were well-received.
Although falafel has a weak spot in my heart, nothing makes me more nostalgic for the Cairo of my childhood like a steaming ful sandwich. Consumed by and accessible to the entire population, ful is quintessential to Egyptian food culture. In turbulent times and with an uncertain future, 80 million Egyptians are united by the most ancient comfort food known to man.
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