Last week, I wrote about my favorite Middle Eastern meal. I’d like to tell you about my favorite dessert, the dessert that I look forward to having every time I go home: knafeh, also known as künefe in Turkey, and kadaifi in Greece. This popular Middle Eastern dessert originates in the Palestinian city of Nablus, which is a historically busy commercial center located in a valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. This city is well renowned for its white, brined cheese made from sheep’s milk, known all over the Middle East as “Nabulsi cheese.”
The soft, mild Nabulsi cheese is the main component of the knafeh, which is made by sandwiching a tray-full of cheese between two layers of noodle-shaped semolina dough. Once baked, the knafeh is soaked in a sweet sugar and orange-flour syrup, and topped with some crushed pistachios. Made in big, circular trays, this dessert is served at very, and I mean very, large family gatherings, where everyone gets to cut off a slice from the tray at the center of the table. Enjoying the knafeh in a communal setting is a tradition all over the Middle East. There aren’t many desserts that bring families together like the knafeh does, and it is because of this, and its delicious, gooey sweetness, that knafeh is by far my favorite Middle Eastern dessert.
Craving it once in a while, I find myself heading to Falafel on Broadway for a bite of their knafeh. But, if you want a place that serves an authentic slice of this dessert, take the M60 towards LaGuardia Airport, and stop at Steinway street, otherwise known as Little Egypt, in Astoria, Queens, where you’ll find many Middle Eastern bakeries serving it warm and freshly made. It is also worth making this thirty-minute trip for the great Middle Eastern restaurants and shisha lounges concentrated in the neighborhood.