Food of Allah in Nablus

"The Souk was packed with humanity and the lane was so narrow that little daylight appeared from overhead; for this reason we had to step carefully over the cobbles. Finally we turned into Sharia Baladdiya, one of the two main streets in Nablus, in Samaria, which was no wider than six feet across. Here many of the shops belonged to confectioners, and this street was sometimes called the street of the confectioners because they were so numerous.

At last we entered a darkened doorway, and choosing one of the mean and dirty tables, sat down. We found that of those already within, the proprietor was the most noticeable. He was a huge man named Lutfi; very fat and very jovial. Now he beamed with delight at our arrival and ran to fetch more chairs, while his Arabic became a continuous flow of greetings, interspersed with orders bellowed to lesser fry doomed to work in the dungeon-like recess that served as a kitchen.

The other imposing personality present was Hussein, Lutfi's younger brother, and partner in business. He too was a big man, but not fat. Hussein was responsible for the trays of sweetstuffs displayed in the shop. He was the master cook and the artisan. He was unique and of all the confectioners in Sharia Baladdiya, he was the most famous. Hussein's greatest speciality was Kunaffi. This was his crowning glory and was the finest to be found in the whole Middle East; and was to be supposed, therefore, the finest in the world. Kunaffi in any form is the greatest dish ever to leave the hands of an Arab, but Kunaffi from Hussein was a luxury difficult to comprehend, and we in his shop were there for the sole purpose of sampling some.

To our delight we were still a little early for the greatest moment of the day, which was the arrival from the kitchen of the delicacy; hot, brown and steaming. With a few minutes to go, we sat with a delightful feeling of anticipation. All Kanaffi lovers waited a while before feasting since the suspense of arrival proved to be one of the secrets of enjoyment. Meanwhile every conceivable form of Oriental dilletanti were among us: Clerks and Merchants, Labourers and Beggars, Peasants and Sheikhs, and a Bedouin or two from the desert. But the staff were all active and shouts, instructions and greetings were exchanged between them as they laboured for our ultimate pleasure.

Then at last a curtain was drawn aside, and from the blackness that was a kitchen, came Hussein with an enormous tray measuring at least four feet across. He swept into the room perspiring and tired, the giver of sweetness, God's own food! Quickly before our eyes the tray was placed in its customary position near the doorway to the street. Portions were scooped out by Lutfi's capable hands, weighed and placed on plates, then rushed to the various tables to be consumed joyously.

How we blessed Hussein. How we blessed Allah. How we watched enviously the first to receive his portion. Then, when our turn arrived, heaven of heavens, the first exquisite taste. That long-awaited dream of honey and sugar mixed with whisks of batter and layers of goats' milk cheese and all covered with honey and grated nuts. As we chewed this delightfulness, silence reigned in the little chamber, and only the shouts of the vendors in the street broke the harmony of spoons and masticating jaws.

At last every particle was consumed and our bellies swelled within us. We rose, regretfully, and paid our bills. Assuring the staff of the establishment of our eternal gratitude, we stepped out into the street, the brightness of day and the return to reality. We vowed that next time we were in Nablus we would return to Sharia Baladdiya and its Kunaffi; but tonight we shall eat no dinner, for we are full."

Palestine Police Old Comrades Association Newsletter No.74

Images from Peace and Collaborative Development Network