19 July 2009 0 Comments

Dessert wars in the West Bank

It isn’t only McDonald’s that offers to supersize its food. In the most violent town in the West Bank, the local specialty is a hot cheese and syrup dessert called qanafi. Last month a Nablus baker made a qanafi that weighed 1,300 kg (1.3 tonnes). After the townspeople recovered from the sugar rush, a real estate developer put together a team this weekend to make a 1,700 kg qanafi that was 74 yards long.

The intention is to repair the image of a city damaged by nine years as the most dangerous place in one of the most dangerous regions of the world–by making enormous amounts of the thing Nablus would rather be famous for. The Palestinian Authority and Israel recently agreed to loosen military restrictions on the city a little. Of course, if you ate a few meters of the record-breaking qanafi (Guiness affirmation is awaited) it’d probably kill you — but slower than a gunbattle. And what a way to go….

My favorite spot for qanafi is on the edge of the old casbah. It’s called Aksa Sweets and it’s always full of local men eating six-inch-square slices of the hot dessert. Qanafi’s made with a base of elastic goats’ cheese topped by a layer of noodles that look like shredded wheat, all drowned in a syrup so vibrantly orange that even Andy Warhol would have thought it in poor taste. The qanafi sits on wide circular metal trays, heated by a gas burner the size of an oil drum. Those who don’t sit down take a big slice and eat it like Americans eat pizza, lifting it and seeming to pour it down their throats as they walk.

Part of the plot of my third Palestinian crime novel THE SAMARITAN’S SECRET revolved around my hero’s attempts to defy the violence of the casbah to take his granddaughter for a slice of qanafi at a place based on Aksa Sweets. People eat qanafi all over the Arab world, but Nablus is where it was first made and the particular mix of goats’ cheeses used here guarantees that it’s the best place to eat it.

Here’s how it’s made:

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