Every big food trend that hits the UK tends to focus on a cuisine that originates in a foreign country. Right now, hip eateries are obsessed with steamed buns, known as gua bao, which hail from Taiwan.
Before that, Instagram-happy hipsters were adding filters to pics of tacos (Mexico); chowing down on barbecue pulled pork sandwiches (USA); and slurping up steaming bowls of pho (Vietnam).
In the midst of all this eating out, these same #woke foodies were filling their fridges with ingredients like hummus, halloumi and tahini; while attempting to whip up their own take on tabbouleh, falafel and baba ganoush. All of these foods can be traced back to Muslim countries, so we’re going to take a look at how grub like hummus goes from Middle Eastern staple to a must have item for trendy British eaters.
Some decent looking hummus. Credit. Jules via Flickr.
According to recent hummus data, which is a thing that exists, over 40% of Britain currently has a pot of the stuff sitting in their fridge. The humble mixture of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic has roots that extend all the way back to the 13th century, when the first known recipes for it were scribbled down by Egyptian Arabs.
Since then, hummus has become synonymous with the region encompassing Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Egypt, but its enormous popularity in the West has seen a number of other Middle Eastern countries try to claim it as their own.
As for hummus’ rise in the UK? Well, bouji supermarket Waitrose was the first to stock it in the 1980s. Other chains soon followed suit when they realised a healthy dip you could dunk carrots/pita into would go gangbusters among Britain’s middle classes.
Fairly solid looking halloumi. Credit: Stijn Nieuwendijk via Flickr.
The origins of halloumi cause much debate. Well, they probably don’t, but there is some indecision on whether it comes from Cyprus or Levantine countries like Lebanon, Turkey or Syria. Who cares TBH, the world’s got bigger issues than cheese wars.
It’s not hard to pin down why halloumi is so popular in the UK. For a start, the salty cheese is delicious and it squeaks when you eat it. Secondly, foodie-hipsters, vegetarians and the health conscious are obsessed with ingredients that can be used as serviceable substitutes for meat in classically meat-based dishes, and if you’ve ever crammed fried slices of the stuff into a sandwich, you’ll know that halloumi does the job.
As such, the UK consumes more halloumi than any other European country – except Cyprus.
A man prepares some lit falafel in Ramallah, West Bank. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Not all falafel is created equal. You know the ones you get in the little tubs from Tesco Express? They taste like sand. Still, we eat them on occasion, because you can’t always find the slam dunk authentic stuff when you’re desperate for a falafel fix.
The question is, is falafel hipster? This might be a bit of a stretch, but we’re gonna say yes. Good falafel is a dish that’s consistently sold from vans or market stalls, and when you offer food for >£5 from the side of the road in a UK city, a tattooed food blogger/yummy mummy will literally drop kick their own French bulldog to get their hands on it. This may be why people who flog the deep fried chickpea balls decided to open shop in Britain.
Falafel is popular throughout all of the Middle East, with some historians arguing that its origins date all the way back to ancient Egypt. We doubt the Pharaoh’s falafel tasted anything like the ones you grab from Tesco, mind.
An Arab coffee shop in Egypt, all the way back in 1900. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Fragrant, bitter and laced with cardamom, Arabic coffee isn’t exactly the go-to choice for Brits needing a caffeine fix. However, we’re including it in this list for another reason: The ritual.
In the past decade or so, coffee in Britain has gone from something that perks you up to a full blown culture. People ask baristas how the beans were roasted. They mix it with almond milk. They sit around in cafes and drink 75 cups of it while working on their MacBook. Like tattoos and avocado toast, it’s suddenly peak hipster.
Well, the Arab world was doing all this before it was cool (well, maybe not the almond milk or MacBook part). In the Middle East, drinking coffee is an important social occasion, often ceremonial in nature and a gracious show of hospitality. Historians reckon coffee has been consumed in some form throughout the region since the 1500s.
If it wasn’t for Arabic coffee, there might not even be coffee shops in the West.
Featured image credit: Max Pixel.