It's almost as bad as it looks.So I was passing the time tonight by listening to Harry and his wife Ziva’s always-amusing podcast, and in their latest edition they spent a good bit of time talking about a certain luridly orange Arab dessert: knafeh (Harry is pro, Ziva anti).

It is difficult to do justice to the concept of knafeh with mere words, but I will try anyway: imagine two layers of a mysterious super sweet shredded sort of chewy orange substance, then imagine crammed between the two layers a bunch of sweetened melted goat cheese. Also keep in mind that goat cheese is noted for generally tasting and smelling like it was squeezed from the udders of small, filthy animals with questionable eating habits and then left to ferment in a cave for a few months, which is of course absolutely true. If your mind had not yet come to associate “rank cheese” with “sugary, honey-drenched dessert product,” remember that you probably live somewhere cool and not historically malarial.

While I am not sure of knafeh’s pedigree, I’m sure it goes something like this: on a day lost in the mists of time in the region called Palestine, the day after some sort of big wedding party or something, an Arab woman realized the uneaten goat cheese had turned a little bit south, if you know what I mean. So, being an enterprising woman, she brushed the coating of flies off, melted it down and covered it with stale flour and drenched the whole megillah in honey so nobody would notice. Thus, knafeh was born. The world’s best knafeh (if a qualifier like “best” can be applied to it) comes from Nablus, which probably had better indigenous food when it was still called Shechem.

I had my first experience with knafeh about a month ago, when a friend of mine took me on a hummus-oriented expedition to the nearby Arab town of Tirah. As way of encouragement, on the way he told me, “During the Intifada, we couldn’t go to Tirah. They would shoot us.” Armed with that handy bit of info, we went into Tirah, which is actually very similar to a typical Israeli Jewish town (down to the big cut-out letter sign on the road into town that every Israeli community worth its salt has) – except the architecture was worse (and trust me, Israeli architecture is not glorious), the auto body shops were cheaper, the Tapuzina billboards were in Arabic and most of the cut-out letters on the town sign had been stolen. He pulled up to a restaurant and said, “I’m going to get an Arab pastry. It’s called knafeh. You’ll like it.” So then I had plopped before me a styrofoam platter of greasy, bright orange slices of knafeh. I took one bite, swallowed with considerable effort, and then offered a quick prayer of thanks to God for being good enough to make Coca-Cola and endow it with the magical ability to wash down that flourescent abortion of a dessert. I have since stopped trusting this friend about anything, including the time and frank appraisals of the weather.

But maybe I’ve made you curious with my knafeh-bashing, and you’d like to try for yourself. Well, here’s a recipe:

1 lb. Knafeh dough (Katif dough)
2 lbs. sweet cheese (Syrian or Ricotta)
1 to 1 1/2 cups rendered butter
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tbsp. Mazaher (orange blossom water)
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 tsp. of Knafeh coloring (optional)
1/4 cup pistachios, chopped (optional)
2 cup thin Attar

I can only imagine the kind of conversations that take place in Nablus and other Palestinian cities. “Honey, on your way home from work can you pick up some groceries? Please, this time don’t forget the Knafeh coloring, and if, so help me God, you get the thick attar again…”

The recipe comes from this website, which appears to be a Palestinian economic improvement organization trying to bring tourism to Palestinian areas, singing the praises of all things Palestinian while fastidiously ignoring the Zionist entity elephant in the room (actually, that’s not fair – they do acknowledge the centrality of Jerusalem to Jews, which is certainly a departure from general PA policy). I’m all for the economic improvement of Palestine (provided the money gets used for hospitals and schools and stuff like that and not, you know, Hamas), but when a website not only guarantees that Palestine is absolutely safe (their words, not mine) and sings the praises of Ramallah, you gotta wonder a little. My Let’s Go guidebook, also in on the “Ramallah is cool!” movement, calls it “a breezy mountain town” and “the hub of Palestinian feminist activity.” The website refers to its “trendy coffee shops and jazz clubs.”

I can see it now. “Hey everyone, thank you, thank you, you’ve been a wonderful audience…give it up for Abdullah on the drums again…anyway, this next song we’re going to play is an old classic, an old Cole Porter standard brilliantly recast by Thelonius Monk in the late ’50s on the Columbia label…it’s called ‘Push the Yahoud into the Sea’…okay, waahid, itnein, talaata, arba’a…”

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Knafeh is gross. And no official word yet whether the consumption of such a flagrantly orange treat constitutes an anti-disengagement statement. Me, I’ll just stick with the baklava.

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  • Funny post, Michael.

    A couple of points: 1. There is no Palestine. There could be a Palestine, but as of now and by choice of the Palestinians, there is no Palestine. 2. Israeli architecture has some very nice moments. Tel Aviv’s ode to the Bauhaus is one example, but you can look at structures like the Supreme Court or even smaller buildings like the Dalal Center and I think they have a lot to say for themselves. Don’t forget the country has always had limited resources.

  • There is just so much to say about this post, it’s probably better not to say anything at all. 😉

  • TM, I know, but I was using the website’s language. And while I agree that Israel possesses some fine architecture, it tends to be overshadowed by those massive, ugly apartment buildings that crop up in twos or threes everywhere. Of course, I don’t mind them so much because it means Israel is growing, but you can’t argue that they’re aesthetically pleasing. And to me, most of Tel Aviv just looks…I don’t know…seedy. But that’s just me!

  • “flourescent abortion of a dessert”

    Michael, you crack me up. You may be a little bit cuckoo, but I dig that.

  • Michael, read up on some of the history of the city, and suddenly the seediest areas become filled with the ghosts of history. Have you visited Reuven Rubin’s house or Nachum Gutman’s house?

  • Michael: You missed the beer commercial on the site:
    Dirka Dirka,
    I’m not an oil sheik, or a snake charmer, and I don’t live in a tent or eat hummus, or own a camel, and I don’t know Muhammed, Abdul or Rachel Corrie from Jenin, although I’m certain they were really, really nice.

    I have a fundamentalist, not a fun mental case. I speak Arabic and English, not freeky deeky Dutch, and I pronounce it “alalalalalalalalalalalala” not “La La La Lalalala” like some stupid Smurf.

    I can proudly wear a dynamite vest. I believe in 73 virgins, not great satans; jihad, not fatwah; and that Yassir was a truly devious and sneaky animal.

    A kafiyah is a hat, a table cloth is not, and it’s pronounced “Abbas”, not “A bus” – Abbas!!!

    Palestine is the second Jordanian province! The first nation of blowing stuff up! And the worst part of the Arab East!

    My name is Muhammed Dirka Jihad, and I am … what am I? Palestinian? *shrugs* If you say so.

    … Thank you.

  • Oh my God, it’s…it’s…those apartments in Jerusalem!

    I actually was just talking about the single buildings that they tend to build in groups, but now that you’ve reminded me, those monstrosities illustrate it even better. Last week I walked from Kikkar Tziyon to Har Herzl, and the route is lined all along the way with huge Jerusalem monster apartments. I mean, they look kind of pretty from a distance when the sun sets in the Judean Hills, but up close, whoo…

  • OK, you’re being funny – but you needlessly malign goat milk and it’s products.

    Goat milk is actually sweeter, milder, more nutritious, and easier to digest than cow’s milk.

    Maybe it was the people surrounding you who smelled unsavory…

  • Maybe so, but alls I know is that cheese tasted like The Death. Also like The Sugar and The Orange Blossom Water, which doesn’t help.

  • If the pope were to condemn the terror of knafeh he would also have to mention the human rights violation of gribnes, that delightful yiddish dish of fried chicken skin in onions and chicken fat.

  • Face it, Michael – you have a psychological block against this dish BECA– USE IT IS ORANGE.

    Everything in Israel is political…

  • I like oranges … and orange juice … and mangoes … and … uh … butterscotch pudding … and … um … did I say orange juice already? … Uh … my pocket Hebrew phrasebook is orange … I have an orange pair of boxers … I think my orange credentials are solid!

    Of course, now to balance the equation of political accusation, somebody needs to claim that my knafeh-opposition is because I support the occupation and oppression of the Palestinian Peopleâ„¢.

    But whatever. I have accomplished my intended purpose of breaking Harry’s heart, so it’s all beseder like cheddar now.

  • I’m currently curled up in the fetal position in a corner of my office in hysterics. Well, I was. But I had to get up to type this comment.

  • First off, you obviously had knafeh at the wrong place, my friend. I’ve only had it once in my life, but it was a truly exalted experience, and I’ve been looking for it ever since on my trips into Arab villages. Give it another chance, especially at this awesome place in Abu Ghosh. You will not regret it.
    And we, as Jews, have our share of ridiculous delicacies. I mean, have you ever *thought* about what kishke actually is?

  • Of course I have. That’s why I’m a vegetarian and subsist on a chiefly chickpea-based diet.

    Yes, from Ashkenazi (“Don’t you this would be better if lard and mysterious chicken parts were somehow introduced?”) to Sephardi (“Needs more nuts. And, hell, throw some apricots in. Oh, and don’t forget to hardboil that egg until it’s brown.”) we all have our culinary…eccentricities.

  • im more partial to turkish knafeh…its soo good mmmmm i think i might go have some right now….mmmmmmmm turkish knafeh with baklavah; cant wait for the extreme sugar rush..mmmmmmm

  • Lard would be the wrong term. Lard is pork fat. You’re thinking of schmaltz probably.

  • Personally I never considered these places sanitary enough. ALot of people would rave about the Felafel in the Old city but you couldn’t get me near one of those things.
    Same goes for this item, I did try it, it was OK but I wouldn’t make a tzimmes out of it…

  • Michael, LMAO! Must have been a bad place, try it in Nablus instead. Knafeh is a delight.
    (Also LMAO at Jason’s beer commercial.)

  • “what kishke actually is?”…enough said, especially the rice version!

  • Michael, unlike the others, I find you pathetic and ingnorant. I would recommend that you get your facts straight before you fart out of your mouth.

  • When I first tried knaffeh, I didnt like it either. Two or three years passed by whithout me even touching the stuff. Thats till I found out there are two types of knaffe. That one I unfortunately got a taste of was the “na’meh” kind-the flour-like (its semolina) sandwiched cheese . The other kind is with shredded fillo pastery as the sanwiching agents (instead of the semolina dough) this is called”isaabeh” (or ‘fingers’) those taste a lot better. As pointer number two, I found out that knaffe tastes better (at least for me) when its not so drenched and swimming in the syrup. Whenever I buy knaffe, I stress to the retailers to hold on the extra syrup (whether they do that out of financial gain or just being “nice”, I’ll just be quiet). This, in my opinion, brings out more of the knaffe’s original flavor. the finger version of the knaffe, I tend to run in to has a slight salty “punch” to it; which (positively) contributes to the flavor of it.

    lol about your preicted palestinian conversation. I think its more time saving to just buy the stuff ready made. I never seen a palestinian actually make the stuff. thats besides the other arabs who happen to be abroad and have not the convienence of buying it ready( tried it once when I used to reside in the US; it is time and energy consuming but VERY good. (especially with ricotta cheese). Hence the numerous predicted normal conversation you mentioned above, thanks btw.

    Im with you about the palestinian economic improvement organization. as if no one turns on the TV or reads the newspaper.

  • We just missed the knafeh festival in Nablus yesterday where they broke the record for the world’s largest knafeh! Now that’s news!! Anyone have a link?

  • Knafe is excellent. This little Jewish boy is used to eating cheese made from his mothers tit milk. Besides. Jews should stick to their own foods. Knafe wasn’t made for u. I once met an Israeli woman that buried meet under soil then dried it in the sun and ate it as sone weird Israeli feast. Jews even have a meal that’s made from pigs anal linng. They think it brings them closer to their god. Wat a fucked up race.

  • Did u guys know that gypsies are Jews. For real. Look it up on wikipedia. No joke. Jews are nomads They never belonged anywhere unroll they killed rapped and tortured Palestinians and stole their land. Iran will soon give them a taste of what their own medicine and send them back to Russia where they originally came from. If ur a Jew then ur just a gypsy. Now that’s a fact.

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