Are you afraid of falafel? Well, if you is or if you ain’t, I direct your attention to a bout of the limeduck national sport, overthinking, going on over at the Clover Food Lab (and trucks), where they sell a sandwich called “chickpea fritter” that might actually be… falafel.
There doesn’t seem to be much debate that the chickpea fritter sandwich is in fact falafel. I can also say that it seems quite popular and is in my opinion, a delicious lunch and quite satisfying for $5, too. So… why not just call it falafel? Clover opened that can of worms themselves in a blog post in February, which I’ll quote most of here:
Yesterday at MIT one of our customers, Nittin, was giving us a hard time about the chickpea fritter. “Why don’t you just call it falafel,” he was saying. “It’s just like the falafel I’ve had in the Middle East.” It’s not the first time we’ve gotten this comment. I think Nittin felt like calling it a chickpea fritter made it seem gourmet, or like we were trying to rename something that already exists.
I was telling him (Ayr and Rolando, let me know if I have this right) the reason we don’t call it falafel is pretty simple. We don’t want to alienate anyone with our food, and a word like falafel might make someone walk away at first glance. We don’t want the only people who eat our food to be those who know what falafel is. Calling it a chickpea fritter almost forces a discussion between you and the person taking your order.
You’re operating a food truck outside of MIT (and a restaurant in Harvard square, plus more trucks in Boston) and are worried that people won’t know about falafel? I’ve got to say, this just doesn’t hold water for me. Sure, Clover is pretty plain-spoken about their food, but would it hurt anybody to put one more word on the menu board? You can look up the nutritional content of Clover’s fritters and find mention of tahini and hummus and even Israeli salad, but a strange absence of the word falafel.
Two of my friends had identical but oddly opposite darker interpretations, wondering if Clover were somehow anti-arab or anti-israeli. I’m certainly not going to take sides on the falafel origin debate, and I don’t buy this unpleasant take on Clover’s choice of words either. So what gives? Why is Clover so defensive about the issue on their blog?
I’ve got a funny story to add. On my first visit to the Clover truck was back in August, before garbanzogate, I opted for the BBQ Seitan sandwich because I didn’t know what a chickpea fritter was. That’s right, I chose seitan, a food whose actual composition I cannot describe or explain [it’s wheat gluten, dude, also known as mock duck, go figure] but one that I had eaten before, over the chickpea fritter which I did not recognize as familiar falafel. Also on the menu board that day were tabbouleh and quinoa, make of that what you will. So I guess food ignorance can go both ways, but the last thing you want at a food truck’s lunch line is to have to take time to discuss the menu with your order taker.
The way I see it, Clover has three choices on this:
- Admit a mistake, change it, move on.
- Outgeek us all by pointing out that some falafel is made with fava beans, so by calling theirs chickpea fritters, they’re being more precise and descriptive and catering to those who wish to avoid fava beans in their diets.
- Test it. Change the menu item to falafel for a day, a week, even an hour, and compare it to a comparable time period. You either sell fewer sandwiches or you don’t.
So what’s it going to be? Until something changes (and I’m not holding my breath) I encourage both of my loyal readers to visit your nearest Clover truck and order the falafel. It’s delicious.