7 Iconic Palestinian Desserts You Need to Try
No catalog of Middle Eastern desserts is complete without devoting a special chapter to the desserts of Palestine. Many of today’s Palestinian desserts are given the overgeneralized label “Middle Eastern desserts”. While there are many similarities, Palestinian desserts are something special.
In Palestinian culture, desserts are either part of religious rituals or contribute to cultural and social cohesion. For instance, Christians in Palestine celebrate Saint Barbara’s Day and prepare a sweet dish called Barbara.
Muslims celebrate the Holy Prophet’s migration (Al Hijrah Alsharifah), and the prophet Muhammad’s bırthday, Al-Mawlid A-Nabawi. For this occasion they prepare mshabbak, a deep fried dough soaked in sweet syrup sold in the Muslim Quarter in the old city East Jerusalem.
Desserts in Palestine are deeply symbolic or act as metaphors for the Palestinians’ assertion of identity and religious commitment .
Let’s round-up some of the most delicious desserts that Palestine has to offer.
There are many sweet dishes that sweeten the daily lives of Palestinians: a square piece of knafeh, for example, which means a footprint in the heart. Preparing desserts in Palestine goes well beyond a life-sustaining necessity and has become as an “art”, one that defends the very idea of existence.
The knafeh shop has proliferated at a remarkable rate in Palestine. You can find them in both working class and middle class neighborhoods, as well as in many luxurious malls. There is also a famous knafeh shop in Nablus called Uncle Abu Hamdi’s Sweet Shop for Knafeh.
This shop is famous for the entertaining show uncle Abu Hamdi puts on when serving knafeh to his customers. He cuts the knafeh into squares and presents it like a thin slice of cake or stuffed in a loaf of bread and drizzles it with sugar syrup.
Knafeh from Nablus, a city surrounded by mountains at the midpoint between Nazareth and Jerusalem, is measured by its cheese. The melted and stretchy goat’s cheese, Nablusi cheese, is the main signature of Nablus knafeh, aka “knafel Nabulsieh”.
Yes, the very name knafeh is inextricably linked with the town of Nablus, so much that you do not mention one without mentioning the other. The entire identity of the city is almost founded on this single dish. Knafeh shops have spread to the Gulf countries to provide for Palestinian expatriates, evoking nostalgia for their Palestinian national cuisine while away from home.
Barbara is a Christian dessert. Saint Barbara was a woman of the 3rd century killed for refusing to renounce her Christian faith. On Barbara’s Day, celebrated every December 17 in Aboud, a small village near Ramallah believed to be her last resting place, Christians celebrate her death by cooking this wheat-based dessert.
The wheat comes from the farm that Saint Barbara was said to hide on during summer. This special dessert looks a little like rice pudding but includes wheat, anise, raisins, fennel, cinnamon, and can be decorated with almonds, raisins, pomegranate, and sugar.
Malban is as iconic dessert of the city of AL Khalil (Hebron) in Palestine, which is widely reputed for its vast verdant vineyard crops. It’s consists mainly of a traditional form of fruit pastel, prepared late in summer months: September and October.
Traditionally, the Khalilis preserved summer fruit by drying the fruit purée to preserve it for the coldest days in the winter to give them energetic and keep warm. However, malban is kind of dehydrated pudding. The people of Hebron would squeeze white or green grapes, then cook the juice without adding sugar. The mixture is then dried in thin sheets, the malban shown in the pic.
The final product is a chewy fruit pastel, which bursts with crunchy sesame, nuttiness from the seeds, called “qesha” or habbit al-barakeh, and nuts.
Khabeesa is a pudding made with grapes. It is prepared by mixing grape juice with semolina and a variety of nuts and seeds.
Mtabbak, or mtabba, is a traditional dessert native to Hebron and is a crispy dough stuffed with crushed walnuts. Mtabbak is prepared at home during cold winter months to combat the freezing weather. This combination of cinnamon, walnuts, and sugar syrup is perfect for providing warmth and energy during winter.
This is another dessert from Nablus. It is basically golden fried pillows of paper thin dough stuffed with a semolina pudding and scented with mastic and orange blossom water. Tamriyeh is usually served hot, so it can be enjoyed before the crust loses its crunch, and is usually dusted with powdered sugar for a little extra sweetness.
7. Kaak bil Tamr, Kaak bel-Ajweh, Kaak Asawer: Date-filled Cookies
These are a staple dessert for auspicious Muslim occasions, mainly Eid-Alfitr, which comes after the Holy month of Ramadan. The name ka’ak asawer means bracelet cookie; they are otherwise known as kaak bel-ajwa, which means date paste-filled cookies. They are quite popular in Palestine.