The Subway Falafel Sandwich and the Americanization of Ethnic Food The Subway Falafel Sandwich and the Americanization of Ethnic Food
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The GOOD Life
The Subway Falafel Sandwich and the Americanization of Ethnic Food
by Tanveer Ali
Though falafel snobs may scoff at an “Eat Fresh” version of a dish that usually packs an aromatic crunch, owners of Middle Eastern restaurants say Subway’s falafel provides a major service to all Americans by expanding their palate. “It's almost kind of flattering that they want to be offering falafel,” said Shadi Ramli, co-owner of Chicago’s Sultan’s Market. Ramli says Subway’s sandwich is hardly competition, but it is a marketing campaign that could end up helping restaurants like his when Subway eaters and falafel newcomers want to try a more authentic version. “It gets the word ‘falafel’ out there,” he says.
A Subway corporate spokeswoman said the fate of the falafel is unknown at the chain, but Zaibak expects the product to expand well beyond Chicago to new markets like Boston, Northern California, New York, and Houston. All of those areas have sizable shares of either ethnic populations, health-conscious communities, or both. In other words, they’re places where falafel isn’t entirely foreign.
If the falafel goes national with Subway, it would reach places where the food and the cuisine is un-American by virtue of unfamiliarity. Zaibak views this as an educational opportunity as much as a financial one. He sees the spread of falafel as a way to spread Middle Eastern cuisine, and by extension Middle Eastern Americans, to wider American culture.
“For a while in this country, anything Middle Eastern and Mediterranean was not accepted. The falafel’s growing popularity shows we have become open-minded as Americans,” Zaibak says. Besides: “Mediterranean food is delicious.” It’s about time everyone knew it.