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.


The Six: Decadent Dishes in Dubai

Decadent dishes in Dubai. (Shutterstock)
Updated 16 January 2019
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The Six: Decadent Dishes in Dubai

DUBAI: Nicknamed the “City of Gold,” Dubai’s supposed fascination with this precious metal extends to food, with various eateries coming up with their own gold gimmicks over the years.

Fishing for compliments
A 23-karat gold-topped fish was the talk of town late last year when Doors Freestyle Grill opened in Dubai’s Al-Seef area. You can catch this extravagant fish meal for $184.

Ice cream mania
At a whopping $217, the Black Diamond Ice Cream at Scoopi Café in Dubai is definitely a glitzy treat. It’s a fusion of flavors from Madagascar, Iran and Italy – topped with gold.

Quality caffeine
The iconic 7-star Burj Al-Arab hotel blends 24-karat Italian gold into the foam of a lavish $24 cup of coffee.

Take the cake
In 2012, Bloomsbury’s Boutique Cupcakes made headlines with “The Golden Phoenix” — a $1,008 cupcake made with 23-karat gold foil.

‘Burg’ Khalifa
Wagyu beef patties, truffle cheese, foie gras, saffron mayonnaise and blackberry ketchup wasn’t enough for The Roadery restaurant in 2017 — chefs added two gold-topped buns to create a $63 burger inspired by the Burj Khalifa.

Dine in style
Gold-loving foodies can enjoy an entire menu featuring the precious metal at the 24 Karat Restaurant in Dubai’s JW Marriott Al-Jadaf.