Sweet dish from the city of sweets

Food Nilanjan Hajra
Sweet dish
Photo : Dreamstime

Let’s call it the queen of the city of sweets. We are referring to a sweet dish named Kanafeh or Kunafa, and to the ancient Palestinian city Nablus. The great 14th century scholar and explorer Ibn Battuta wrote, “It is an industrial town, famous for making sweets and tahina, in addition to soap.” Today the city is located in the northern West Bank. And even after 700 years the city’s confectioners have held their ground. For centuries confectioners of Nablus have satiated the sweet tooth of gourmets. The most famous sweet dish of Nablus is Kanafeh or Kunafa. Moreover, the city has its own variety of baklava, named Tamriya, and Ghoraybeh, plain pastries.


Let’s focus, in this piece, on Kanafeh or Kunafa, one of the most famous Arabic sweets. Its history is no less fascinating than its taste. Food historians believe that hakims created a sweet dish of this name to satisfy the caliphs in the 10th century. Incidentally, all over the Islamic world hakims and Yunani doctors had a major role in deciding the food of the elite class. Historians differ over whether the sweet was first introduced in the Egyptian Fatimid Caliphate or in the Umayyad Caliphate of Baghdad. A number of modern culinary history books claim that writings from the 10th century Fatimid Caliphate mention this sweet dish.

Confectioners possibly took the dish from the Fatimid Caliphate to far-off al-Andalus at a later period. There is a famous cookbook named Kitab al tabikh fi-l-Maghrib wa-l-Andalus (Book of Dishes from Mahgreb and Al-Andalus). It’s a 13th century collection. And this contains a recipe of a sweet dish named Kunafa. Famous food historian Charles Perry has translated it as ‘sweet crepe pudding’.

But not only to al-Andalus, either confectioners or maybe hakims also took the sweet dish to Damascus. Ibn al-Jazari, a great 14th-15th century Islamic scholar has narrated how in the 13th century an inspector used to roam around the city at night during Ramadan to ensure the quality of foods partaken during the fasting month, which included Kunafa.

Again, in the 13th century Muhammad Bin Hassan al-Baghdadi wrote a cookbook titled Kitab al-Tabikh. It described foods of the Abbasid Caliphate. Turkish translators added many dishes to this cookbook, when translated into Turkish in the 15th century. One of them was named Kadayif. Food historians believe the modern Kanafeh or Kunafa originated from this Turkish sweet dish.


There are few varieties of Kanafeh, out of which Kanafeh Nablusieh is the finest. And here is a modern recipe of the sweet dish.


500 g. shredded filo pastry

400 g. Ghee

1 kg. Akawi or Ricotta cheese

Red food color powder

½ cup sugar syrup


1. Cut the Akawi or Ricotta cheese into medium-sized pieces and dip in for 8 hours. Make sure to change the water every 1 hour. Strain, pat dry and set aside.

2. Prepare the sugar syrup by boiling 1 cup of sugar, 4 cups of water and 1 tbsp lime juice and 1 tsp orange-blossom water. Cool it and set aside.

3. Shred the filo pastry, and keep it coarse.

4. Pour 1/4 cup of ghee into a12 inches round cake tin. Add a little food-colour powder. Mix well. Grease the tin evenly.

5. Mix the shredded filo pastry with the remaining ghee. And divide into two portions.

6. Pour one part into the ghee-greased cake tin. Press the shredded pastry into the bottom of the tin.

7. Evenly spread the cheese to cover the whole surface.

8. Add the remaining shredded pastry and evenly cover the cheese-layer. Press it gently with your hands.

9. Preheated oven. Bake at 200°C for 30 minutes or until the top and bottom of the kunafa turn golden.

10. Remove from the oven. Pour out the baked kunafa on to a serving plate.

11. Evenly drizzle half cup sugar syrup.

12. Serve

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