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Could falafel be the new hamburger?

Could falafel be the new hamburger? It may seem unlikely (chickpeas aren’t nearly unhealthy enough to wean the world off meat patties any time soon), but Middle Eastern foods are unquestionably going through a worldwide boom in popularity.

At the moment, there are signs of Middle Eastern food’s boom in popularity cropping up all over the world. In Britain, the Royal Geographical Society published a paper last month stating that Middle Eastern restaurants were quickly creeping up on the nation’s curry houses in popularity. The paper even went so far as to suggest that Middle Eastern dining spots might soon become the nation’s favorite cheap places to eat out.

This buoyant enthusiasm for Middle Eastern food is more than a purely British phenomenon, however. In the past five years, those conservative eaters – the Japanese – have flocked to the new network of kiosks selling kebabs that have mushroomed all over Japan, providing one of the most recognizable foreign food presences in a country generally squeamish about outsiders’ specialities.

Likewise, Taiwan’s famous night markets are making space for Middle Eastern foods, while Arabic-influenced street food has become hugely popular across Latin America in forms such as Mexico’s Taco Arabe (grilled meat in pitta bread). This is especially true in Brazil. Home to an estimated 10 million people of Arab descent, the country’s Lebanese fast-food chain Habib’s has recently become among the country’s most popular. Selling foods such as sfiha (the open-faced meat pies sometimes referred to as “Arab pizza”), and kibbeh (cracked wheat patties stuffed with spiced mince meat, then fried) the chain has reached far beyond the Arab Brazilian community to establish over 260 branches across Brazil.

So exactly why has the popularity of Middle Eastern food taken such a leap? The most obvious answer is its novelty. When it comes to restaurants, and fast food in particular, the public is generally fickle and easily bored.

Middle Eastern cuisines are not just a refreshing change, however. Unlike many of their competitors, they’re generally very good for you. With its abundance of vitamin-packed fresh fruit and vegetables and fibre-rich legumes, Middle Eastern food even tends to prepare potentially guilty pleasures like red meat in ways that keeps their fat content relatively low. Certain key Middle Eastern ingredients, such as antioxidant-packed flat leafed parsley and chickpeas (whose high levels of soluble fibre have been claimed to combat high cholesterol levels) are currently so highly regarded that they’re hovering on the edge of being classified as superfoods. With diners becoming increasingly health-conscious, this vitamin-rich guilt-free food is a godsend: exotic, fresh, satisfying and not even bad for you.