Kunafa is a popular dessert around the Arab world and can be found in Egypt, the Levant, Palestine and Turkey. Each country uses different stuffings. In Egypt, cream is usually used, whereas the Levant is famous for the cheese-stuffed kunafa, Kunafa Nabulsi, which Egyptians have recently taken to as well. As this is a famous Ramadan dessert, the past few years have seen the pastry’s stuffings and toppings developed to such an extent that shops compete with one another for the best kunafa during this month. Today, you can find mango kunafa, chocolate kunafa and even cheesecake.
Zalabya, another dessert found in different regions, has various names depending on location. In Egypt, it is called zalabya (or loukmet el-qadi, which means ‘the judge’s food’). In Turkey, it is called loukma, meaning mouthful, and in Greece it is called loukoumades. The small, fried balls of dough are soaked in syrup or honey, sprinkled with white sugar powder, or dipped in brown or white chocolate. This dessert is cooked in front of you and is served hot with your choice of topping.
This is a must-try dessert even if you set foot in Egypt for a minute. Om Ali, meaning Ali’s mother, is made of layers of puff pasty soaked in milk and mixed with nuts, raisins, coconut flakes and sugar, then thrown into the oven to bake. The cooked pastry with the hot milk, complemented by various different ingredients, makes this a dish to remember. You can definitely find cheaper options around the city, though.
This desert may not be of Egyptian origin, but it is surely pretty popular around Egypt. Found in different areas of the world, it’s made by mixing rice, water and milk. Optional ingredients include raisins, nuts and cinnamon. Recipes vary depending on the location. In Cairo, the ingredients are boiled and put in the fridge to come together. Toppings include ice cream, pistachio and nuts, giving the dessert an extra edge.
A toothsome dessert that has crossed boundaries, basbousa is of Ottoman origin. Found in different countries, it is favoured by people from around the globe. The delicacy’s name changes from country to country; it’s called basbousa in Egypt, ravani (or revani) in Greece and Turkey, and nammoura in Lebanon .The Egyptian version is usually thin, soaked in sweet syrup, soft from the inside, and topped with almonds and fresh cream.
A very similar dessert to basbousa is harissa, which is thicker and slightly different in texture and taste. In other countries, harissa is known as a red chilli paste used in cooking, whereas in Syria, even basbousa is known as harissa. In Egypt, the dessert is solely sold in Alexandria, the second largest city, and is usually accompanied by another dessert called bassima, also only found in Alexandria.
This is how they pamper you in any Egyptian village! Feteer meshaltet, a flaky and layered pastry with no stuffing, is known as an Egyptian specialty. It is served with white honey and fresh cream, black honey and tahini, or Egyptian cheese. It’s sold today with diverse stuffings, both savoury and sweet. The most popular sweet feteer is with milk and honey, sprinkled with white sugar powder.
Some favourite sweet feteer varieties are those stuffed with caster cream, banana, chocolate, and nuts. Watching the process of feteer making is an experience in itself as the cook prepares the dough in swift movements depicting extreme precision and skill.
A popular sweet in Iran and India, jalebi is also very prominent in Egypt, but it is mostly called meshabek. In most areas around the world, it’s usually golden in color and small, but here it has more of a transparent crystal color and is bigger. It is made by deep frying flour in circular shapes and soaking it in sugar syrup. It’s chewy from the inside and has the perfect amount of sugar to tantalise your taste buds. It can be found in most local bakery shops for an affordable price.
Commonly served during the month of Ramadan, qatayef is a dessert of Fatimid origin and is mostly found around the Levant and Egypt. These mini pancakes look a bit like dumplings and are stuffed with cream and nuts. However, unlike pancakes, qatayef are eaten crispy. They are fried in hot oil and soaked in syrup afterwards, which gives them a shiny golden color.
Usually known as baklava around the world, Egypt has a different name for the layered phyllo dough dessert – goulash. In Turkey, Morocco and the Levant, it is stuffed with pistachios and other nuts and soaked in syrup. It is made in small canapé portions, as well as big sliced portions. Even though this original baklava can be found around Egypt, the country has it’s own form as well – stuffed with sweet cream, soaked in syrup, and topped with nuts and raisins, biting into the goulash is definitely an experience!
Just as Ramadan has its own special desserts, Eid El-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of this month, also has an exceptional dessert known as kahk. Despite being associated with this holiday, these Eid cookies are a tradition with no religious origin (in fact, several wall drawings on Pharaonic temples show that kahk is an ancient dessert). The butter cookies are stuffed with malban, dates and nuts, and often sprinkled with white sugar powder. Kahk is more that just a dessert in Egypt, it’s more of a tradition. Grandmothers, mothers and daughters sit together at the dawn of Eid to bake large trays just for the family.