Layla SafiCollege composition 12nd SemesterSt. Louis Community CollegeProfessor YezbickTaste of a Nation: History of Knafeh and PalestineOne of the most decadent sweets I have ever had the pleasure of tasting in my life was this summer in Nablus, Palestine. Knafa. It a rich, gooey, crunchy pastry type cake. Fresh out of the oven it is served to you, your eyes are glowing while you take your first glance at the knafa. The simple syrup drips down the side of the desert, while the toasted Pistachios rest on top of the bright orange filo dough noodles. Not to mention all of this deliciousness is laying on top of a bed of gooey, traditional Arabic cheese. Then you smell a floral aroma, what is it? Rose water.
Such a simply amazing combination. The first bite is one you will remember your entire life. First, you taste the sweetness of the simple syrup, and then the saltiness of the Arabic cheese hits you. The cheese is so stretchy and gooey, you do not know what to do with it. Next, the crunchy filo dough noodles, and toasted pistachios excite your taste buds. Lastly, your palette is cleansed with the lightness of rose water. Knafa is simply the best Palestinian sweet there is, and you must get it from Al Bake in Nablus.
In palestine knafa is eaten all year round, but during Ramadan it is traditionally celebrated and enjoyed most. Ramadan is a whole month when Muslims fast from sunrise till sunset, it is one of the most celebrated times of the year. One of the most important characteristics of knafa there is, is to eat it with people you love. Usually knafa is traditionally served with arabic roasted coffee. The coffee is served on mosicated tray, and in small cups on top of decorated plates. During Ramadan families stay up eating, laughing, spending time in the cities and devoting time to god.This summer, I was fortunate enough to go visit all of my mother’s side of the family in Palestine. After my family’s jet lag had worn off, the first place my uncle’s wanted to take us was Al Bake.
Al Bake is one of the most popular bakeries in Palestine, their specialty is knafa. Knafa is a very difficult dessert to execute correctly, there are many components that can easily be done incorrectly. One must first chop the filo dough, then create the perfect bright orange dye for the filo dough. The dye is then mixed in with the filo dough, it is placed on the cheese or cream mixture.
Note, that there are specifically two optional bases for knafa the cheese base or the cream base, both are equally deliscuis. Next, the pistachios are to be toasted lightly, and the simple syrup is to be made (qutr). The components of the qutr are water, sugar and rose water, the recipe calls for one cup of water, one cup of rose water, and two cups of sugar.
After being able to eat at one of the oldest bakeries in Nablus my mother learned from my grandmother how to make and perfect knafa. Now, only on special occasions does my mother make this decadent dessert for my family.Some claim that knafa was first made for Muawiya bin Abi Sufyan, during the tenth century first Caliph of the Umayyad Empire. It was made for him at suhoor time, to prevent hunger during a long day of fasting. Other reports suggest a very similar story with a king during the fifteenth century Fatminid empire, in Cairo.
Even though the stories of knafa differ, the dessert is still enjoyed all around the world. Knafa is a staple dish in Arab and Palestinian culture. In Palestine the city of Nablus is where people, food, and design flourish. It is one of the largest city in palestine, located in between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The it is known for one dessert-knafa. Why is knafa so well known and praised especially in Nablus? For, kanfa was first recorded in the tenth century, Nablus is also famous for their Nabulsieh cheese. This cheese is the base of knafa, thus leading to Nablus being the city of roots for knafa. Overtime knafa began to develop and change more and more, from rolling it, too altering the length of the filo dough.
Today there are three main types of Middle Eastern knafa: Khishnah is the crunchiest variant, made with long noodle threads; na’ama is made with semolina dough, with a softer bite; and mhayara is made with both crunchy noodles and softer semolina. No matter what type of knafa one prefers, they all share the livelihood and culture of Palestine, and so many other Middle Eastern countries.