Food & Travel Middle East

Kunafeh | The Queen of Arabic sweets

Today, we went to Mansour Mall in the evening. We thought of having Kunafeh (sweet cheese pastry) and so we walked into MADO Cafe. MADO is a Turkish ice-cream brand and has over 250 branches working as cafes and restaurants all over the world. The brand gets its name from two words: “Maraş”, the former name of the city where the firm is originated; and “Dondurma”, the Turkish name used for ice-cream.

Kunafeh is a pastry that is common to countries in the Middle East. It is a dessert popular in Levant region and Turkey, Greece, Iraq, etc. It is made with the shredded phyllo like pastry and it is usually filled with a neutral, non-salty, stringy cheese and it is baked until the pastry gets nice and golden brown and crispy and it is then smothered in a simple syrup. It is served with crushed pistachios spread over it.

kunafeh
Kunafeh with ice cream

According to Wikipedia, Kunafeh is first mentioned in 10th century. It is generally believed to have originated in Palestinian city Nablus in West Bank, hence the name Kunafeh Nabulsieh. Nablus is still renowned for its kunafeh. In the Levant and Egypt, this variant of kunafeh is the most common. The largest plate of kunafeh was made in Nablus in an attempt to win a Palestinian citation in the Guinness World Records in July 2009. It measured 75×2 meters and weighed 1,350 kilograms.

The name stems from the Arabic verb “ka-na-fa” meaning mercy.  It was first served during the Umayyad Caliphate when Muawiya ordered his cook to prepare a rich dish to help him endure the fasting in Ramadan. Gil Marks, author of “Encyclopedia of Jewish Food,” writing about the “early adoption and production of this pastry by the Jewish community,” relates how the Caliphs’ cooks made a “crepe-like” pastry called qata’if wrapped around almond cream and drizzled with honey. By the 13th century, Middle Eastern cooks began to bake “thinly sliced … qata’if and tossed the shreds with honey,” but the preparation was later modified whereby the qata’if batter was poured “into thin lines onto the metal sheet.” This new method of cooking the dough became known as Kadayif or Kunafeh, a variation of the word qata’if.

Kunafeh is really very tasty sweet dish. I love it although it’s quite a high calorie dessert. MADO Cafe also served with a small piece of vanilla ice cream topped with crushed pistachios. Just awesome!

If there’s one dessert that rules as the Queen of Arabic sweets, I would nominate kunafeh, the sticky pastry made of gooey sweet cheese sandwiched between layers of shredded crispy pastry.

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