Battle of the bakers in Cairo’s ‘kunafa war’

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Egypt’s makers of kunafa are battling to outdo each other with the most outlandish creations of the pastry.
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Updated 21 May 2018
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Battle of the bakers in Cairo’s ‘kunafa war’

  • Egyptian sweet makers are adding a modern spin to the dish that originated in Palestine, adding a range of unusual ingredients to their creations. 
  • Kunafa in Egypt is traditionally crunchy on the top and bottom with sugar or honey sweetening it with fillings in between such as cheese, mixed nuts, raisins and custard.

CAIRO: It has long been a treat savored during Ramadan across the Arab world. But in Egypt, makers of kunafa are battling to outdo each other with the most outlandish creations of the pastry.

Most versions of kunafa appear indulgent to even the most sweet-toothed, with its ingredients of mild cheese covered with layers of shredded phyllo pastry, soaked in a sugar syrup, but its modern interpreters are making it even more of a treat. 

Egyptian sweet makers are adding a modern spin to the dish that originated in Palestine, adding a range of unusual ingredients to their creations. 

“The beauty of kunafa as a pastry is that we can cook it in a variety of options,” Petra Mohamed, a Cairo cook, told Arab News. “You can leave it long, short or broken into pieces, which makes it easier for new ideas. 

“I personally love to serve the trifle kunafa full of mixed fruits. The mix of soft and crunchy is simply amazing.” 

Kunafa in Egypt is traditionally crunchy on the top and bottom with sugar or honey sweetening it with fillings in between such as cheese, mixed nuts, raisins and custard.

A few years ago, a new trend from a younger generation of chefs sent traditionalists into a meltdown.

One particular new favorite has been a combination of mango and whipped cream. 

“The wave started in 2010 with the introduction of mangoes and then seasonal fruits was introduced,” said Mohammed.

“Later, kunafa with Nutella was introduced and people went crazy for it. From then onwards the creation of new ideas didn’t stop: Red velvet kunafa, dates kunafa, kunafa bites with mixed fillings ... the list goes on.”

This year, one Egyptian pastry shop, TBS Fresh introduced its cronafa, a pastry made from croissant rolled in kunafa that comes with a variety of fillings: cream and pistachio, Nutella and nuts, dates and lotus, halawa and sesame.

Another pastry shop, Etoile, introduced the kunafa with avocado, which received mixed reviews.

Nola, a trendy pastry shop, which offers kunafa cupcakes, introduced the kunafa volcano this year, a crusty confection filled with chocolate and custard.

Tasting the new kunafas has become a Ramadan trend with the reactions from sweet-toothed Egyptians providing a great deal of entertainment.

“My blood is full of kunafa,” said Yomna Hassan, a 27-year-old housewife from Cairo.

“Kunafa with cream is the best created invention after the electricity and Messi,” added Mohammed Abdel Megeed.

But for older consumers of the treat, the elaborate incarnations have left them longing for something more traditional.

“We are the generation of kunafa with gee not with mango,” said Yousef Ahmed.

Decoder

The origins of kunafa

The word kunafa comes from the Arabic verb “ka-na-fa” meaning mercy. Originating from Nablus in Palestine, kunafa nablusi is the most famous incarnation of the sweet. Traditional ingredients include nablusi (white brined) cheese, phyllo pastry, pistachio nuts, sugar syrup and rose water.


Ta’ateemah: Giving Eid a Hijazi flavor

Ta’ateemah includes a variety of dishes such as dibyazah, red mish, chicken and lamb stew and bread. File/Getty Images
Updated 19 June 2018
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Ta’ateemah: Giving Eid a Hijazi flavor

  • Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread
  • The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it

JEDDAH: Ta’ateemah is the name of the breakfast feast Hijazis enjoy on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr. It is derived from the Arabic word, itmah, or darkness, because the dishes served are light, just like midnight snacks.

Muslims around the world celebrate Eid Al-Fitr to feast after fasting for the holy month of Ramadan. But it is called Al-Fitr from iftar, or breakfast when translated to English, which is a meal Muslims do not get to experience during that month.
The first day of Eid is a day where they finally can, and they greet the day with joy by heading to Eid prayers and then enjoying this traditional meal.
Amal Turkistani, mother of five from Makkah who now lives in Jeddah, told Arab News all about a special Eid dish.
“The most famous dish is the dibyaza, and making a dish of it is a work of art that I can proudly say I excel at. Dibyaza is made of melted dried apricots, roasted nuts, figs, peach and sugary dates to create a marmalade-like dish that can be enjoyed with or without bread.”
She revealed that dibyaza is not a quick meal — it is usually prepared a day or two before Eid with the ingredients simmered to reach the correct liquid thickness.
No one can trace the origins of dibyaza — it remains a mystery. Some people claim it originated in Turkey, while others attribute it to the Indians.
A number of women who are famous for their dibyaza agreed that it is a Makkawi dish. This marmalade dish was developed and improved, with tiny details to distinguish it.
The dibyaza is also similar to an Egyptian dish called khoshaf, but dibyaza is often partnered with shureik — a donut-shaped bread with sesame sprinkled all over it.
Turkistani said sweet shops sell 1 kg of dibyaza for SR50 ($13), competing with housewives who make their own.

 

“I think it is always tastier when it’s homemade because of all the love that goes into making it. It’s also a wonderful way to greet your family and neighbors with this special dish that you only enjoy once a year.”
Her younger sister, Fatin, said: “My siblings always have Eid breakfast at my place, so it’s up to me to prepare the feast. My sister spares me the exhausting dibyaza-making, so I prepare two main dishes: Minazalla, which is a stew of lamb chops with tahini and a tomato chicken stew.
“She also serves what we call nawashif, or dry food, like different types of cheese and olives, pickled lemon, labneh, red mish — a mixture of white cheese, yogurt and chili pepper and halwa tahini,” Amal said.
Mohammed Ibrahim, 23, from Makkah, told Arab News: “It always feels unique to have minazalla and nawashif during Eid, and not just because it is followed by the Eidiyah.”

Decoder

What is Eidiyah?

It is money elders in the family give to the youth to celebrate Eid and to congratulate them on completing Ramadan fasting.